Tue, Jun 24, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Ibiza unites against oil prospectors

The waters surrounding the Balearic party island are a World Heritage site and conservationists, politicians and tourist leaders have demanded that plans to drill off shore must be stopped

By Adam Vaughan  /  The Observer, IBIZA, Spain

Illustration: Yusha

It is best known for all-night clubbing with top DJs, an A-list celebrity crowd and partying, but Ibiza is also home to two national parks and environmentalists living off the grid on solar power, and is considered of such ecological and cultural importance that the UN designated the Balearic island and its surrounding waters a World Heritage site.

Now people with interests in both camps are uniting over the prospect of oil exploration several kilometers off the coast in the glittering Mediterranean waters, which are home to oceanic Posidonia, a giant seagrass found only in Europe. Whales, dolphins and turtles are among the species spotted in the Mediterranean around Ibiza.

Recently in Ibiza Town’s port, a crowd of people were vying not to get into the latest upmarket club, but for a tour of the Rainbow Warrior. The Greenpeace ship arrived at the island on June 11 to rally opposition, under a banner reading: “No oil.”

Scottish oil explorer Cairn Energy, whose plans to look for oil in the Arctic have made it the target of ecological campaigners in the past, says that although it holds licenses to explore for oil in the Gulf of Valencia, to the northwest of Ibiza, any seismic testing or the drilling of test wells is a long way off. The company is awaiting a decision on its environmental impact assessment (EIA) by Spanish authorities due in late summer, which will determine whether it can continue.

The government says Spain imports more than 99 percent of its oil and gas, at great expense, and that it must ensure energy security.

In February, more than 10,000 people marched through Ibiza Town, and about 60,000 signed a petition against oil exploration in the region. Twenty people posed naked covered in mock oil for a piece of performance art. The battle went online, with a social media blitz by celebrities who regularly visit Ibiza, including singers Dannii Minogue and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

“I am against it, completely. Yes, it is selfish to say ‘we are against it,’ and then use cars and phones, and not be against it in Africa or elsewhere. But this is our territory. I cannot fight for Africa, so I have to fight here. We do not really need oil,” says resident Ida Kreisman, who runs a jewelry stall.

Rebecca Gil, working for the summer at a clothes shop in Ibiza Town, says she recognizes Spain’s need for economic growth, but exploring for oil is not the right approach.

“I understand the argument for it, but it is not the solution. The promise of money from the oil is a big lie,” she says.

A straw poll of waiters, taxi drivers, hotel workers and street entertainers found all were apparently opposed to the prospect.

“They are crazy. It is a beautiful island. This is a paradise,” says busker Juan Sanchez, standing in the shadows of the great medieval walls surrounding the hilltop cathedral.

Even local politicians have been surprised at the degree of unanimity.

“It is the first time people speak with one voice against a project like this. I cannot remember another time. This is the beginning of something,” says Vicent Serra, president of the island’s local government, the Consell Insular of Ibiza.

Serra is a member of the Popular Party, which is in power in Madrid and has argued in favor of exploring for oil, but he says he will put Ibiza first.

“I am against oil prospecting here. I was voted to represent the people here,” he says.

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