Spain’s Repsol spudded the first of two wildcat wells off the coast of the Canary Islands Tuesday despite attempts by Greenpeace to block drilling.
The Rowan Renaissance drillship started drilling early Tuesday morning about 30 miles off the coast of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, two islands near Africa’s west coast.
Drilling for the first well is expected to take about 60 days.
In August, Spain’s Industry Ministry gave Repsol the green light to drill at three locations around the Canary Islands at depths ranging from about 9,842 feet to 22,965 feet.
Repsol plans to invest $438 million in the exploration project and estimates it has a 17 to 19 percent chance of finding a pay zone.
Environmentalists and local government officials are concerned that drilling could damage the country’s environmental tourism industry.
Repsol provided $25 million up front to “cover its environmental responsibilities” under the terms of its license agreement, the AFP said.
The company also said the exploration program will bring much needed jobs to the islands where unemployment continues to hover around 30 percent.
On Sunday, four Greenpeace activist protesting at the drilling site were injured after boats manned by activists and the Spanish navy collided.
A group of oilfields off the coast of the Canary Islands hold an estimated 500 million barrels of crude, according to UK-based Deloitte.