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Drilling the Italian soil, for a few barrels more
Drilling the Italian soil, for a few barrels more
Luigi Grassia

ROME - Italy won't be the new Saudi Arabia, but few realize that it does have its own small treasure trove of oil and natural gas, underground and under the seabed.

There is, however, one condition required to benefit from it – not saying "No, grazie!" Italians will only see the gushing of oil and gas if it gets exploited, otherwise it will be as if the treasure trove just didn't exist.

The Italian government’s new energy plan – the National Energetic Strategy (SEN) – was presented this spring to identify industry development guidelines from now unitl 2020. The plan calls for the development of alternative energy, but also proposes to boost exploitation of petroleum and other hydrocarbons.

Italy wants to increase the extraction of hydrocarbons to as many as 24 million barrels of oil per year in 2020. This would be more than double the 11 million produced in 2012. According to the SEN, doubling the hydrocarbon in eight years "will require investments of 15 billion euros, will create 25,000 jobs and will yield savings of five billion euros on the national energy bill a year."

The SEN imposes "the respect of the most elevated international standards in terms of environmental security and protection.”

However, until now, all drilling expansion requests have been rejected. In the province of Novara, one of Italy’s main historical oil extraction centers, a new potential development zone was discovered in Carpignano. However in June, the municipality of Trecate held a referendum and repealed the proposition of Italian multinational oil and gas company Eni to drill a well with an overwhelming majority (93%). In the same province, the request by the British company Northern Petroleum to extract crude oil around Borgomanero was met with a letter of protest from a group of mayors at the end of December.

And it's not just isolated cases – all around the country geologists have been rallying committees who oppose oil extraction in Italy.

Not in my backyard

Davide Tabarelli, head of energy think-tank Nomisma Energia is among the analysts in the sector who sided with the decision to drill Italian gas and oil freely with strict respect for the environment, without yielding to the syndrome known in America as "nimby" (Not In My Backyard).

"In Italy there is a backbone of oil and gas that runs from Novara, down the Appenines to Calabria and goes on to Sicily," explains Tabarelli. "In the Adriatic Sea, there is a parallel line that runs offshore from Chioggia to Gargano. In a century-anda-half in Italy, 7,000 wells have been drilled through, of which 800 are still active."

Tabarelli explains that even on the Tremiti islands, where there is resistance to the drilling, there is already a well, active since 1962, that hasn't caused any damage to the environment. The Italian production could easily double, like SEN predicts, simply drilling where reserves are already known to be. "Instead," he says. "It has all been blocked."

Tabarelli cites the case of in Chioggia: "The environmentalists there didn't want the wells because they said that there is the risk of subsidence, that is that the land would sink or give way. But it's enough to go into the basilica of Saint Vitale in Ravenna to notice that over centuries, the land has only sunk about one meter. In this zone, it's a natural phenomenon, the extraction of oil doesn't even come into it". But isn’t there a risk drilling would cause even more subsidence? "All the geological studies say no. But there is always one person who is willing to say that there is always that danger."

A potential Italian oligarch kingdom is the region of Basilicata. In 2012, this region extracted five out of the 11 million Italian barrels but has untapped resources for another 400 million. Specialists even evaluate a potential one billion barrels. Tabarelli is outraged about the fact that "in Basilicata, even a simple search for deposits was blocked by the region, an act that is potentially unconstitutional.”

Tabarelli is even more determined: "I hope that someone in the next parliament will take responsibility to draft a law that says that once issued by the ministry for the environment, which in Italy is very strict, then local authorities cannot create any obstacles, and if they do, that they will be punished."

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