A regional court in Portugal has temporarily stopped a company drilling for fossil fuels after an appeal by NGOs.

An offshore oil exploration project, in an area south of Lisbon, has been stopped after a coalition of NGOs and citizens sent the case to court to challenge a claim that it would not impact the environment.

The Portuguese Environment Agency had previously given the green light to the project without evaluating the environmental risks. However the local Court of Loulé accepted the argument of the anti-drilling group and declared the project not to be in the public interest, local media reported.

Central to the case was the fact that the Portuguese Environment Agency had claimed that the drilling would not impact the environment.

According to the coalition against drilling in the Algarve, called PALP, the company won’t be able to start drilling work until a final decision is made by the courts.

On 24 May PALP presented its case against the project to the court hoping for a result that would challenge the Portuguese Environment Agency’s position.

It took just days before the Court supported the injunction, stopping the project that was due to start in September 2018. This will now have to go back to the court for a final decision before the work can start.

Drilling projects are regulated by European laws and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are required under certain circumstances. An EIA is an assessment of the impact of a project on the environment. When it comes to oil extraction, they are conducted when substantial quantity of oil is extracted – at least 500 tonnes per day.

The Algarve Daily News reported the Portuguese Environment Agency’s position regarding the EIA:

“The project is not likely to have significant negative impacts and therefore does not require an environmental impact assessment.”

The Portuguese government claimed that an EIA will be conducted if such quantities are found, but this is not enough for NGOs who voiced their concerns during a public consultation in March this year.

Portuguese environmental group, the League for the Protection of Nature came out in favour of the use of an EIA in this instance, taking into account “the location, site and characteristics” of the project.

Portuguese NGO Zero, which is a member of the European Environmental Bureau, commented on the government’s position on their website:

“This decision was taken by the Secretary of State for Energy, Jorge Seguro Sanches, on 8 January this year and runs contrary to the resolution announced by the Prime Minister, António Costa, at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP22) in Marrakech in November of 2016, to move the national economy to a carbon-neutral model by 2050.”

In March 2018, Portugal reached 100% renewable energy but Environmental Minister, João Matos Fernandes, made a surprising claim after giving his support to the oil extraction project stating:

“Zero carbon does not mean zero oil”

Matos claimed that the country needed oil to reach its energy consumption and secure energy independence.