‘Oil-drilling could destroy Canary tourism’

A campaign against plans to drill for oil off Spain's Canary Islands has united politicians, environmentalists and personalities including the mother of Hollywood star Javier Bardem, a native of the archipelago.

'Oil-drilling could destroy Canary tourism'
Tenerife's capital Santa Cruz already has an oil refinery which has brought many jobs to islanders but spoiled the city skyline. Photo: Desiree Martín/AFP

An online petition launched on Monday against the plan by Spanish energy giant Repsol to prospect for oil off the islands had drawn more than 33,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

In a manifesto read out in Madrid by Pilar Bardem, the Oscar-winning actor’s mother, campaigners said the project threatened the Canaries’ vital tourism sector.

"The drilling constitutes a serious threat to the natural assets of the islands, to its economy and its supply of drinking water, to its tourism and therefore to its present and future inhabitants," said Pilar Bardem, herself a well-known actress in Spain.

She was among several artists to throw their weight behind the campaign along with non-government groups such as Greenpeace, authorities including the Canaries regional government, local fishermen’s guilds and Spain’s main opposition Socialist Party.

The campaigners said Repsol planned to drill 9km off the island Fuerteventura and 18km off Lanzarote, in a zone of seismic activity, much of it classed as a natural reserve.

Home to more than two million people, the eight Canary Islands welcome millions of foreign tourists every year.

The islands are nevertheless suffering more than most of Spain from the recent years of recession, with a regional unemployment rate of 35 per cent.

National Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria, who also comes from the Canary Islands, said the oil project would ‘introduce an extra economic activity’ to the region.

The campaigners said the risk of an oil leak like the one that struck in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 threatens the whole archipelago, which draws all of its drinking water from the surrounding sea.

The launch of the petition also comes just weeks after a Spanish judge acquitted crew members of the Prestige ship and a top maritime official of causing a massive oil spill off Spain in 2002, one of Europe's worst environmental disasters.

Repsol has previously said the two wells they have planned could yield as much as 100,000 barrels of oil per day and cater for ten percent of Spain’s hydrocarbon needs.

The energy multinational has also argued that the chance of a blowout is 1 in 50,000 and that it has adequate safety and prevention measures in place to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

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