Offshore drilling: WWF asks important questions
Three recent rulings by the Italian Council of State, releasing environmental impact assessments approved by the Ministry of the Environment, have authorized the use of seismic airguns for the research of oil and gas in the waters of the Adriatic Sea. This does not solve, according to WWF Italy, two important questions that the new Parliament and the new Government will have to face:
1) does Italy still intend - despite the Paris Agreement ratified in 2016 - to favor fossil fuels and expand dangerous offshore drilling, delaying the introduction of renewable sources and putting at risk our natural resources?
2) will Italy continue to underestimate the environmental impacts of these activities, feeding a system of subsidies that makes Italy a "tax haven" for oil companies?
Seismic airguns are the most commonly used source of energy to find oil and gas underneath the ocean floor. They are so loud that they can cause serious temporary, permanent or even lethal effects in some species, cetaceans in particular, as has been demonstrated by an ISPRA study.
Today, 25% of the Italian continental shelf is affected by offshore drilling which puts at risk valuable natural areas in exchange for a negligible economic return. The available crude oil is of poor quality and the oil reserves present in the seabed are so limited that they would meet national requirements for only 7 weeks. Oil companies continue to invest because they enjoy a system of exemptions that do not charge royalties on the first 50,000 tonnes of oil extracted and on the first 80 millionSm3 of gas extracted from the sea; in addition they are charged an insignificant amount for concessions to which a whole series of further subsidies are added.
No national plan exists for areas where research, prospecting and drilling for oil and gas take place. The continued privileging of oil and gas extraction puts at risk, in the Adriatic alone, our natural heritage consisting of 112 areas protected under Italian and EU law: 6 marine protected areas, a national park, 10 regional parks, 31 state and regional nature reserves and 65 sites of the Natura 2000 network distributed along the coast and in Italian territorial waters.
Offshore drilling has a high impact on the marine ecosystem. Although the use of seismic airguns will have to be authorised, it is quite clear that the ongoing search for and the extraction of oil and gas at sea is a real emergency.