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Spain is trying to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and so it recently authorized drilling off the coast of the Canary Islands. Those islands are one of Europe's top winter beach destinations. And now floating offshore is an oil rig. Locals and environmental groups such as Greenpeace are protesting the project. Lauren Frayer recently traveled to the Canary Islands and sent this story.
JULIE GENICOT: Wonderful view to the Famara Cliff, which is part of the natural park.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Julie Genicot is a French trekking guide who's lived in Lanzarote, in Spain's Canary Islands, ever since her grandparents opened in ecolodge here when she was a child.
GENICOT: We have all the elements. It's very windy, we have tides, the sun. We have the earth, the fire. We are surrounded by volcanoes.
FRAYER: Every year, millions of tourists come to hike these volcanoes, ride the waves, bask in 360-plus days of sun or scuba dive. Marine biologist Helena Alvarez describes why this whole island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
HELENA ALVAREZ: You have, for example, deep water corals. You have, like, a third of the known species of whales and dolphins. And these kinds of animals live at least part of their lifetime in the Canaries, or pass by while they are migrating.
FRAYER: But there's believed to be another natural treasure under Lanzarote's waters - oil. I traveled to a quaint fishing village on the island's south coast, where 30 miles out at sea drilling has begun.
TRAUDE GFOELLER: There's too much at risk. It's as simple as that. There's too much at risk.
FRAYER: Town councilman Traude Gfoeller came to Lanzarote from Austria 24 years ago and is now a vocal opponent of the drilling. She worries an oil spill could affect the desalination plants here which supply all of this island's drinking water.
GFOELLER: If something happens and it gets into our water, we will be without water. What are we going to do? And let's face it, we have many more people working in the tourism industry, in the hotels, in the rental cars, in the restaurants - than we could ever have on an oil platform.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).
FRAYER: Islanders have been protesting and boycotting gas stations belonging to Repsol, the Spanish oil company. The regional government and a majority of island residents oppose the drilling. But despite such a backlash, Madrid allowed Repsol to begin prospecting this month. Why? Because...
KRISTIAN RIX: Spain depends 99 percent on oil imports, and our estimations are that you could produce the equivalent of 10 percent of Spain's demand in a day.
FRAYER: Repsol spokesman Kristian Rix says Spain wants to cut its dependence on foreign oil. And he points out an irony. Many of the Canary Islands' 2.2 million locals make their living off tourists who get cheap flights from northern Europe - in other words, from fossil fuel.
RIX: We want all the benefits of oil, but we don't want to be part of any of the activity which will give us oil. It's unfortunate.
FRAYER: Rix says Repsol has done environmental surveys. He puts the risk of a spill at 1 in 30,000. But even that risk is too high for groups like Greenpeace, which has stepped up its protests in recent weeks.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting in Spanish).
FRAYER: Video recorded by Greenpeace shows Spanish Navy boats apparently ramming dinghies filled with protesters headed for the oil rig. Four people were injured.
Despite all this unrest, the dispute might just be solved by nature. Geologists put the chance of actually discovering oil here at less than 20 percent. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer on Lanzarote, in Spain's Canary Islands.
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