A court in Argentina has issued an injunction suspending oil exploration in three maritime areas off the Atlantic coast of Buenos Aires Province and ordering environmental impact studies to be carried out.
The measure came in response to a presentation made by the PRO mayor of the tourist city of Mar del Plata, Guillermo Montenegro, together with environmental organisations that had been protesting against exploration off the coastline's beaches, which attract millions of visitors every summer in the southern hemisphere.
The injunction will remain in place until a substantive ruling on the issue is handed down, according to the ruling, which was quoted in the local press outlets.
At the end of last year, President Alberto Fernandez's government gave permission by decree to Norwegian oil company Equinor, together with state-owned YPF and Anglo-Dutch Shell, to carry out seismic exploration studies in offshore areas of Mar Argentino.
Mar del Plata lies around 400 kilometres south of Buenos Aires, the nation’s capital.
Federal Judge Santiago Martin decided to hear the mayor's petition and ordered "the immediate suspension of the approval of the project" based on "the possibility of irreparable damage derived from the execution of the exploration work".
Among the points objected to by the magistrate was the "omission to carry out a strategic environmental assessment, which would be the appropriate instrument to address the analysis of the cumulative impacts of seismic exploration in the different areas of Mar Argentino subject to concession."
Back in January, thousands of people protested along Mar del Plata's beaches against oil exploration. Rallies were also staged in other coastal cities across Argentina, in support of the demand.
Argentina holds extensive shale oil and gas deposits – including the world's second-largest shale gas formation, Vaca Muerta – which the government hopes could be a driver of economic growth.
The government says the project was granted approval after a public consultation hearing, though Greenpeace says that “98 percent of participants” objected to the project.
The oil companies with stakes in the three blocks in question have said they will comply with the conditions imposed by the Argentine government and the "highest international standards" in terms of safety and socio-environmental issues.