Canarian oil prospecting off eastern islands

This is the original thread from 2 February 2012 to 13 August 2014, which I’ve split for ease of management. More recent posts are HERE.

Update 13 August: Madrid has now formally authorized Repsol to start exploratory soundings in the waters between the Canaries and Morocco. The company will have to provide public liability insurance of €40m as well as a €20m financial guarantee against environmental risks. The official go-ahead has been published today in the Boletín Oficial del Estado (BOE): up to three soundings are approved – Sandía (3,170m depth), Chirimoya (3,000m), and Zanahoria (6,900m).

Update 24 June: Although the formal ruling won’t be released for a day or so, Spain’s Supreme Court has rejected seven appeals which had been presented against Repsol’s oil prospecting off the eastern Canaries by the Canarian government, the Lanzarote and Fuerteventura cabildos, ecology group Ben Magec, the César Manrique foundation, the WWF and Izquierda Unida. The court confirmed the validity of decree 524/2012 of 16 March by which the government approved permits allowing investigation. With the support of the top court in the country, there would seem to be no further legal route for objections to stop the plans proceeding.

Update 8 June: Madrid might have refused permission for the Canaries to hold a referendum, but the public manifestations yesterday made it quite clear what the opinion of the majority of Canarians is without the need for any vote. Soundings – political rather than geological – suggest that seven out of ten oppose the plans, and in Tenerife alone, tens of thousands of people gathered in the Avenida de Anaga in Santa Cruz under the Una Sola Voz banner called for by the Canarian government. They were joined by similar protests in all the other islands, everyone clamouring against Madrid’s plans for oil exploration off Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

Local press is reporting that just before 6pm when the protest was due to start, the capital’s tram service was completely overwhelmed with people carrying banners arriving to take part. Indeed, the protest spilled over from the planned route along Avenida de Anaga into Plaza Weyler, Calle Castillo, and the port and auditorium.It is not oil that will be poured on the troubled waters of Madrid’s plans for drilling in the Canaries if yesterday is anything to go by.

Update 29 May: The environment department has announced today that the way is clear for Repsol to prospect for oil in Canarian waters. The announcement was made in a ministerial representative meeting with the press in Madrid. It had been speculated over recent weeks that Medio Ambiente would put obstacles in Repsol’s way, but in the event, the opposite has been true, and they have been given the green light to seek oil 60km off the coast of the eastern islands. The permiso affects soundings in the concessions denominated by Repsol as Sandía, Chirimoya and Zanahora. Medio Ambiente says that the utmost guarantees are in place to minimise risks. Coincidentally, today also saw the Congreso de los Diputados reject with an absolute majority the possibility of stopping the prospecting. This is now happening.

Update 18 March: Cairn and Genel have announced that they have capped and abandoned the JM-1 well. Although they are saying that more time is needed to analyse and determine the quality of what was discovered, sources from the Oficina Nacional de Hidrocarburos y Minas (ONHYM) in Morocco have already said that the oil reserves discovered in a band some 110 metres thick in Upper Jurassic deposits was not of good quality. It seems that Cairn and Genel will now compare the latest findings with those already made to determine how to direct future investigations.

Update 9 March 2014: Oil drilling in Spanish waters is almost certain to go ahead now, because Genel Energy has confirmed that Cairn Energy’s JM-1 well has located oil in the Upper Jurassic as part of Morocco’s own exploration in the same area.  The well is in the Juby Maritime III block shown in the image above. As I posted HERE recently, the Canarian president is demanding a referendum on whether oil prospecting should proceed in Spanish waters off Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, but Madrid has dismissed the claim out of hand. This week’s news that there is indeed oil below those waters make drilling all but inevitable now, I should have thought.

Apart from concerns about oil exploration in an area of regular seismic tremors due to tectonic movement, one wonders what the Canarian government would make of it if it realized that the CEO of Genel Energy is none other than Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP at the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Mr Hayward recently said that Genel had begun a high-impact exploration programme in Africa “targeting over 900 mmboe of prospective resource this year, with the first well underway in Morocco and a further three to follow in Malta and Morocco. Each well has the potential to make a material impact on our already significant reserve and resource base.” Spain will have its eyes firmly fixed on such potential coming from its own side of the international waters line …

Update 18 September 2013: Regardless of whether Spain explores or drills for oil off the eastern Canaries, Morocco is going ahead with exploitation of the parallel oil fields in any case. The scale of the whole thing is shown in the graphic above, taken from the website of Scottish firm Cairn Energy, who will be carrying out the drilling. Given that the Moroccan oil fields border the Canarian ones, if a disaster happens, it won’t much matter whether Spain was actually responsible or not.

It will lend huge impetus to the development lobby in this country given that there seems no reason now not to exploit the Canarian fields and take the money. Chief executive of Cairn Energy, Simon Thompson, said that the Moroccan exploration will be taking place at a depth of between 500 and 2,000 metres, and will be in the areas of the oil field known as Foum Draa and Juby Maritime.

Graphic courtesy of IGN
Graphic courtesy of IGN

Update 11 June: Rather than oil on the water, it will be fuel on the flames for those who oppose oil exploration off the eastern Canary Islands. A 3.7 earthquake was registered overnight at a depth of some 20 km between Fuerteventura and the African coast, in the area where Repsol has now been given confirmed consent to carry out oil prospecting. There were two aftershocks of 2.4 and 2 on the Richter scale in addition. IGN says that such tremors are normal seismic activity relating to tectonic movement, but that will perhaps hardly reassure those who foresee an oil catastrophe for these islands.

Update 28 January 2013: German company RWE Dea AG, which along with Woodside (Australia) and Repsol is conducting soundings for oil off the eastern Canary islands, has estimated that there is a supply of around 1,390 million barrels in the Aaiun-Tarfaya oil field to the east of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura: the extent and scale is clear from the area of the red box in the above image. The report says that the field can be considered as a northern extension of recent discoveries of oil deposits in Mauritania, Liberia and Sierra Leone from the Tertiary and Cretaceous eras: this dating apparently indicates that the oil will be of a high quality.  Exploration, the next stage after prospection, is expected to start in the second half of 2014.

Update 6 June 2012: The Canarian Government has lost two judgements from the Canarian High Court in as many days. On Monday, the Court rejected an appeal to annul the authorization given to Repsol to carry out soundings off the eastern islands, and yesterday it again found against the authorities in their appeal to stop the works proceeding. The High Court not only refused to paralyse the works, but added that the national interest was more important than that of the region. Its judgement ruled that there was no risk to the islands in carrying out the soundings and, moreover, that it could represent a source of wealth for Spain in general.

Update 26 March: Protests have taken place throughout the Canaries against Madrid’s approval for oil exploration off the eastern Canary Islands. The numbers are disputed, as protest statistics always are, with President Rivero claiming an excellent turnout, but police saying far fewer. In Tenerife, some 1,000 gathered outside national government offices, but there were far more who took to the streets in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. There, organizers say 35,000 gathered to protest, though police put the number at 12,000.

The meaninglessness of the given numbers is shown by the Gran Canaria protest, where organizers said 15,000 people turned out in Las Palmas but where the official number was given as 1,500. To a very large extent, these figures are  politically massaged and motivated … rather like the protests themselves … and if anything will stop the drilling, it will be the Canarian Government’s legal proceedings against Madrid, which will have to succeed if Repsol is to be prevented from starting work as authorized by royal decree.

Update 23 March: The Canarian government has initiated legal proceedings against the Royal Decree of 16.3.2012 which grants permission for oil prospecting. Several free bus services will be organized to take people to a demonstration.

The local press, meanwhile, is thoroughly enjoying the “hypocritical stance” of the regional Government and, particularly, the Canarian president, Paulino Rivero. He who is leading the fight against the prospections was the one to reclassify the environmental catalogue to force the sebadal grasses off it, and so allow the works on the Granadilla megaport to continue. One cartoon the other day showed him borrowing a megaport protestor’s placard to go and protest about the oil.

Update 21 March: And the authorisation has come far earlier than expected with publication in today’s BOE (Boletín Oficial del Estado). Repsol has now been given official permission to carry out oil prospecting in the sea between Lanzarote and Morocco. This official announcement has been coming for a few days and has resulted in great consternation in the Canarian Government, with President Rivero saying he’ll fight this tooth and nail.

Suspicions are rife, too, that this has been rushed through by Madrid in order to preempt any legal measures the Canaries could initiate to stop the prospecting before it had started. The Canarian President, backed inevitably by green groups and political parties of other hues as well as Greenpeace, says it will have an adverse effect on tourism and that any oil spill would spell the end for the Canaries. This is going to run and run …

Original post 2 February 2012:  The minister for Industria, Energía y Turismo, José Manuel Soria, has announced that authorisation for Repsol to start oil prospecting between Lanzarote and the Moroccan coast is imminent. Sr Soria said that this phase involves establishing for certain that crude oil deposits exist, a necessary first phase prior to any plans for extraction or exploitation.

The minister said that although there is no empirical evidence as yet, all the signs are that there is a lot of crude oil, and of good quality. It seems that Morocco is already carrying out its own research in the same region in its own maritime area.

This is not the first time that Spain has been on the verge of authorising prospecting off the eastern islands, but previous plans have foundered for a variety of reasons, including environmental concerns. Sr Soria said, however, that Spain could no longer allow itself the luxury of not authorising such explorations, and that the Canaries would logically benefit from any discovery of such deposits, assuming that a further decision was made to extract them.


  1. Let’s hope the Canarian High Courts have the same attitude towards Rivero’s government when they are asked about ‘illegal’ letting. If their priority is ‘source of wealth’ for the Canaries, then there is room to be optimistic!

  2. Now there’s a thought! Paulie Rivero’s gang of deep pocketed buddies in the oil business & those at Repsol will take care of him and the other PP traitors who have sold Canarias oil rights to greedy foreign oil interests who use the same deep water drilling methods as BP’s Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico. I am told in that in most deep water drilling and shipping “small spills of oil are unavoidable” I dread to think, what will happen on the Canarias earthquake prone seabed? The “PP are totally out of flavour in Spain, The party leadership have acquired a bad taste of “oily sleez”. They will surly become part of political history at the next election. “Who voted for the PP at the last election”? Almost everybody I speak with, say they would never have voted for this disastrous PP administration.
    Post oil spillage, post unusable desalination plants. Drinking water will need to be shipped from Ireland/Iceland/Scotland for us to survive in the future. “Water in, Oil out” I hope they flush the tanker clean before they load with cool clear water. Hey!!This is an opportunity for some enterprising shipping company who would have no problem bunging a few bob in the “Right” direction.

  3. “the opinion of the majority of Canarians is without the need for any vote. ”
    How can you say that the majority of Canarians are against based on a few 100.000s on the street.

    Last time I looked the Canary Islands had a population of 2 million people, so for majority that would be more than 1 million people.

  4. Author

    Well, given that demonstrations only bring out onto the streets a percentage of those who are actually opposed to something controversial, I think it will be found to be an overwhelming majority. We are apparently to have an (illegal) referendum by the end of the year. Although it will bring its own problems in terms of sanctions from Madrid, it will be interesting to see the numbers!

  5. Thanks for your articles Janet, in relation to your comments on a future referendum on the drilling and oil exploration , who will be allowed to vote on this issue ?
    Will it be Canarians Nationals or everyone legally resident in the Canaries ?
    Obviously like our Scottish Referendum people who are registered resident in Scotland can vote but ex-pats can’t .
    As an opinion , if find it crazy that an area desperate for well paid employment they are turning their back on the opportunities this will provide. Just look at the money that has been spent in Santa Cruz on the maintenance and repair of some rigs so far .
    Scotland has had offshore rigs for decades with a few accidents that have not deterred tourism , in fact it is increasing .
    I think a recent TV programme has had a more serious impact on
    peoples ‘ perception of Canaries in general and Tenerife in particular !

  6. Author

    Hi John, I don’t know because the details haven’t been announced yet, and are anyway hindered by the fact that Madrid has said we aren’t allowed one. At the moment, they’re talking about an online one, and I don’t see how they can restrict participation on that sort of thing.
    Bear in mind, though, that no result of any such “questionnaire” (which is how it might be termed, perhaps, to get around the illegality of an actual referendum) will be totally informal and of no validity, though it will give the regional government ammunition to argue its case.
    Meanwhile, however, Madrid minister Soría (the Gran Canarian politician who has made it to national cabinet level) has said he’s giving Repsol the go-ahead in a few days to proceed with soundings.

  7. I suppose in theory it is an excellent idea….financially,of course, it can´t do the Canary Islands any harm, but like many others…… my personal feelings are: ´not in my back yard please…!!! ´…

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