Update: on tuesday, 19th of January, the Constitutional Court approved a referendum to vote on the legality of oil drillings on Italian soil. Government sources added that no new offshore drillings will take place, regardless to the referendum’s outcome. The referendum centers on the duration of authorisations for both explorations and drillings. It will apply to both existing and new authorisations.

 

The Isole Tremiti are rightly considered a most precious stone in the Parco Nazionale del Gargano‘s crown. The Park is one of the largest natural protected areas in the country, and includes, beside the Tremiti, also the Promontorio del Gargano and the Foresta Umbra. 

 

Isole Tremiti (Luigiantonio72/flickr)

 

In spite of the area being protect under law, the Ministero per lo Sviluppo Economico (the Italian Ministry of Economic Development) decided to allow exploratory drills in the sea surrounding the islands in search of oil. To be precise, Federica Guidi, the Italian minister of Economic Development, talks of “geophysical research” to assess the presence of oilfields under the sea bed. The Tremiti research is part of a larger oil searching project which would include similar exploratory drillings in Abruzzo, Lampedusa and the Taranto Gulf.  

Locals are worried, and so are nature lovers and ecologists in the rest of Italy, as the operation, which is extremely invasive, could destroy the area’s delicate bio-ecological balance and potentially endanger many of the protected species living in the Tremiti Islands’ seas. 

In truth, this is only the last installment of a  five year long saga seeing, among its protagonists, the Italian Government, local politicians,  large multinationals and plenty of people making a living off tourism in an area considered rightly one of the most beautiful of our country. 

 

Precious oil under the sea

 

The breathtaking seabed off the Tremiti islands could be damaged forever if 
the proposed tests went ahead (David Salvatori/flickr)

The Touring Club Italiano website has recently given a clear and exhaustive overview of the situation so far.

On the 22nd of December, a gubernatorial decree gave permission to Petrolceltic Italia to carry out investigative drillings in an area of 373.3 square kilometers, just off the coast of the Tremiti Islands. We are not talking about oil drillings, but rather of a series of geological investigations in the area. Unfortunately, such investigations are invasive and can cause damage to marine fauna, flora and geophysical landscape: the method chosen is called “Air Gun” and involves the continuous emission of compressed airwaves into the sea, able to penetrate the sea bed and identify the presence of gas or oil deposits. These airwaves are noisy and highly disturbing for animals and it has even been proven they negatively affect fishing in the area where they are emitted. 

There may not be drillings – yet – but the potential dangers for the environment and the economy are very much real and close. 

 

The Government says it is not all that bad, but locals don’t believe it

 

Federica Guidi, Minister of Economic Development, underlines how no drillings will take place, but only research tests to understand whether or not the area is oil-rich. Of course, this is of little comfort to Tremiti Islands’ mayor, Antonio Fentini, who became his people’s spokeperson to the world. Talking to the La Repubblica, he ironically declared that “we’ll go camping in Rome, just outside the Ministry buildings. We’re not too many, we Tremitesi, we’ll fit all in one bus.” He then got more serious, discussing how hard his community has been working to flourish and how much effort it has placed into developing tourism and fishing, the islands’ main sources of income today: “…and the Government wants to throw it all for a bit of oil” he concluded, disillusioned. 

 

The crystal-like sea of the Tremiti Islands (Luigiantonio72/flickr)

 

In support of the people of the Tremiti rose also the cousin of famous Italian singer Lucio Dalla, who loved and lived in the area: Andrea Faccani remembers with nostalgia when, in 2011, his late cousin, along with Renato Zero and Gigi D’Alessio, organized a concert to protest against the possibility of exploiting this corner of paradise to seek oil. Yes, you read right, 2011: because the people of the Tremiti and their supporters have been fighting against the abuse of nature and their own territory since then. 

It is not only local politicians and popular figures to take a stance against the Government’s proposal, but also plenty of restaurateurs, hotel owners and all those involved in the local hospitality industry, now thriving thanks to the high touristic appeal of the islands. Of course, things would change dramatically should the drills start, because… who wants to go on holiday and wake up in the morning to the sound and vision of an oil drill and well?

 

Suspicions and confusion

 

In a twist typical of Italian politics – which admittedly are more and more similar to a low-end soap opera filled with idiotic characters than anything fit to lead a G8 country – the Government approved the decree related to the Tremiti Islands experiments on the 22nd of December, and a law forbidding drillings at less than 12 miles from the Italian coast on the 23rd, managing to avoid a planned referendum on the subject by doing so. 

Pity that the law fails to specify whether it should be considered retroactive or not: this is of a certain importance because, according to member of the Italian Green Party Angelo Bonelli, the area allocated to Petrolceltic Italia off the Tremiti Islands is closer to the coast than 12 miles. 

 

The church of San Nicola and the Fortress, Isole Tremiti (Gengish Skan/flickr)

 

Sadness

 

What remains to we Italians in general, and especially to the people of the beautiful Tremiti Islands, is the all-too-common feeling that politicians are failing us one more time and that their own interests come before those of the country and the people they should represent: what happens off the Tremiti, should not it be the business of those who made of the Tremiti the paradise they are? Should not the Government, then, respect nature and the people who worked to make the area thrive?

Last word to the islands’ parish priest, Father Massimo – who is Syrian, as an incise, interviewed by La Repubblica: “This is a paradise. And they’re waging war against us, as people’re suffering decisions taken from high above, upon which they have no saying. In his encyclical, the Pope spoke about nature hence he spoke about us, too. They’re trying to destroy our home, but we won’t let them.” 

 

Another beautiful view of the Tremiti Islands (Luisa at flickr.com/photos/104100374@N07/)

Francesca Bezzone

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