Offshore exploration (Photo: Perfil)
Offshore exploration: according to Equinor, INIDEP and Pesca gave their approval
Friday, May 13, 2022, 06:30 (GMT + 9)
The legal representatives of the oil companies Equinor and YPF made new presentations in the case. They argued compliance with the environmental impact study process and the economic benefits that offshore exploitation would imply. Hierarchy principle is applied to the impact on fishing.
The case against the National State for approval of the environmental impact study that allowed approving offshore exploration 300 kilometers from Mar del Plata, had a new movement in the file. The oil companies Equinor and YPF presented reports describing the economic and strategic advantages of their start-up, as well as a summary of everything that took place in the approval process. They assure that both the Directorate of Fisheries Management and Planning and INIDEP have given their approval, despite applying the principle of hierarchy, whose maxim indicates that if the damage cannot be avoided, it will be seen as minimizing it.
The report presented by YPF highlights the advantages that offshore exploration would represent for our country, indicating that it would allow it to reverse the deficit due to energy imports and would be a generator of employment in various sectors. They also describe the history of explorations that have already been carried out in the Argentine Sea and assure that the "volumes to be discovered on a Vaca Muerta scale" are a great opportunity for the country and for Mar del Plata.
At the same time, the firm Equinor released two reports, one on the background of the company in the activity in other parts of the world and another that presents an overview of the environmental impact study process by which they were granted the authorization that Today it is under the magnifying glass of justice.
The report covers all the steps taken, the presentations made to the authorities of the different ministries, secretariats and investigative bodies of the State that intervened, as well as the responses given. Although it covers other areas, we will focus on the data provided on those issues that affect fishing activity and that have been relevant in this judicial process.
Assessment of the impact on flora and fauna
In the section on fish and cephalopods, they have indicated that "the impact was initially classified as moderate and, once the proposed mitigation measures were applied, the impact was reduced to low." They ensure that there would be no changes in the size of the populations in the long term and that in the case of squid the impact would be low because the seismic activity would take place in spring and summer.
On the other hand, they point out that the areas where the ships will operate "do not directly overlap with protected and sensitive areas." That it does not affect “sensitive” areas is something that could be the subject of discussion, given that they are located in an area of high productivity, to the point that they were originally contemplated within the proposal for the Blue Hole Marine Protected Area.
The intervention of INIDEP, the body that deals with the matter, was prior to the presentation of the final report; from the institute they had formulated observations, and after the corrections made, they indicated that the report was "in a position to move on to the final review stage and continue with the evaluation process." As stated in the brief presented by the oil company, the institute would not have been summoned again, although as we will see later it is assured that it gave its approval.
Assessment of impacts on the fishing industry
They confirm that the species present in the area of influence of the exploration project are: "hake, toothfish, Patagonian toothfish, southern hake, pollock, cod, Polish and squid" and that the direct area of influence of the project "is not identified as a nursery area for commercial species. They add that the fresh and deep-freeze fleets that operate in the area concentrate their efforts between 30 and 17 kilometers away from the areas to be prospected and without much activity. Therefore, they consider that the impact will be low.
"The potential temporal overlap with the fishing activity, the pollock, Patagonian toothfish and squid fisheries could be affected depending on the moment in which the survey is carried out." They indicate that such objection was dismissed because the fishing activity in the area is more important during autumn and winter.
To enhance her presentation, lawyer Mariana Brun pointed out that during the EIA procedure, the corresponding intervention was given to the Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture and INIDEP. Pointing out that both organizations "finally considered that the information provided in the EsIA was adequate and sufficient."
But as stated in the same report and as we mentioned before, INIDEP did not approve the final report. The Fisheries Management and Planning Directorate did intervene, showing compliance with the established deadlines, as we will see later.
From the Ministry of Energy they maintained that in the last ten years more than 80,000 kilometers were acquired by 2D seismic and 25,000 square kilometers by 3D seismic and that in no case were "environmental incidents or contingency situations associated with these projects" recorded. Without campaigns that measure the impact, it would be difficult to denounce them unless it was of great magnitude, as occurred in the San Jorge Gulf.
The case of Panamerican Oil in the San Jorge Gulf, which, according to the court, generated a negative impact on the population of hubbsi hake and economic damage, is not considered by this Secretariat. From Energy they indicated that it is not comparable because in the Gulf it was carried out in shallow waters near the coast, while the current project will be carried out in deep waters.
Strategic Environmental Assessment
Both civil organizations in public hearings and justice have referred to the need to generate guarantees based on the precautionary principle, which imply carrying out this type of evaluation before granting permits. It is an instrument that the State has to incorporate environmental aspects into the design, planning and adoption of programs; among which could be included the carrying out of evaluation campaigns to know the state of the environment before the seismic activity, during and at the end.
The oil companies are reluctant to carry out this type of study, they consider that the presentation of the environmental impact study based on bibliography is sufficient, even more so when it is the Executive that should promote this type of evaluation and has not done so. In addition, they point out that the rule that incorporates this type of study was approved after the original allocation of concessions (Round 1), which is something that should be taken into account for the future.
Regarding the controls and precautions that must be taken to prevent or reduce the impact on marine fauna, the oil company has indicated that it will comply by incorporating marine fauna observers and that the controls are in the hands of the State, specifically the Ministry of Energy. Body that, although it would not be the most competent, is the one chosen by the national administration. The fishing sector had been promised that the controls would be carried out by the Ministry of the Environment, but apparently no one seriously considered the request.
In the specific case of fishing activity, it is only expected not to do too much damage and if it is generated, it will be seen how it is done to reverse it, as long as that is possible; in this particular vision they have the endorsement of the Undersecretariat. On the other hand, it is not defined what will be the economic compensation mechanism for companies if there is damage.
The report indicates that for fishing activity "measures have been established in accordance with the principle of mitigation hierarchy (according to which it is preferable first to avoid adverse impacts and then, if they cannot be avoided, it will seek to minimize them)". To bring peace of mind, they assure that the temporary windows chosen were considered adequate by the authorities.
The Directorate of Fisheries Planning expressed that "it is considered of the utmost importance that particular attention be given to the periods that are identified in the impact study as having the least impact on fishing resources and their associated fisheries," Brun transcribed verbatim in the letter. presented.
The incorporation of this documentation to the file has been notified and sent to the plaintiff against the National State for the approval of the environmental impact study of the offshore exploration in the north basin. After the answer in the case that follows in the Court of Appeals, it is expected that a resolution will be issued.
Sorce: Revista Puerto
Edited by Malena Nahum