The Spanish government has given the petrochemical company Repsol permission to explore hydrocarbons off the coast of the Spanish controlled Canary Islands.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment confirmed the decision on Thursday, while insisting "preventing and corrective measures" would be taken and adding that for the moment, "this phase does not imply in any way, the extraction of petroleum."
The exploration will take place 60 km to the east of the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, but just 11 km from a protected area. The ship which carries out the exploration will be able to drill to 2,300 meters below the seabed.
Although the Ministry of the Environment has assured there is no risk of spillage or contamination, the news has angered ecological and conservationist groups.
A coalition of Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, Ecologists in Action and Friends of the Earth has strongly criticized the decision, calling it "an action without precedent," which places the environment and consequently tourism, which is the main source of income for the region, under "serious threat."
"This means strengthening the current model of energy which is dependent on the combustion of fossil fuels, a model which is unsustainable and which is creating a large number of problems linked to climate change," insist the groups.
A recent OECD report showed that Spain is currently highly reliant on energy imports, buying in 99.9 percent of its oil and gas.
But the decision conflicts with the "green" tendency of the archipelago, which was highlighted two months ago when the island of El Hierro announced plans to become totally reliant of renewable energy sources with the opening of a new wind and water energy plant.