Italian Offshore Back on Track but Progress Has Been Limited

ImageAlmost a year after Rome reversed a ban on offshore drilling, Italy’s energy sector is showing signs of life with new efforts and interest on the part of foreign firms.

This month has seen progress reported by   Petroceltic, Northern Petroleum and Mediterranean Oil and Gas regarding offshore efforts in Italian waters. However, despite such advancements, progress has been limited in improving the country’s overall energy standing – a situation made worse by a toxic political and economic environment and local opposition.

The Mario Monti government announced an end to a ban on drilling within five nautical miles of Italian shores that had been put into place following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The purpose of the government’s reversal on offshore drilling last year was two-fold. First, an increase in domestic production would help ease the country’s current, heavy dependence on foreign producers. Italy brings in about 90 percent of its oil and gas needs from outside the country and has seen alternative energy options evaporate over the last three years, making those imports all the more important. While renewable development has suffered amid a wave of government cuts and a loss of investor confidence brought on by the country’s economic crisis, Italy’s push to reintroduce nuclear power disappeared almost as soon as news of Japan’s Fukushima disaster reached Rome.

Second, the financial benefits of a boost in domestic production could help jumpstart Italy’s ailing economy, offering little in the way of investment options to outside investors. When the Monti government announced the plan to ditch the offshore ban, the country’s Economic Development Minister Corrado Passera predicted that expected increases in output allowed by the revision could bring in as much as 15 billion euros, while reducing the country’s energy bill by about 6 billion euros, according to Bloomberg.

Nearly a year on from the ban reversal, Italy’s energy options have offered little relief due to a precarious economic and political environment as well as instability in Algeria and Libya, two of the country’s largest providers of oil and gas.

Complicating the offshore situation still further has been the actions of local environmental and political advocacy groups. Even before the 2010 ban had been into place, groups in Sicily and along the Adriatic coast had pushed for drilling bans in the name of environmental and tourism protection. Although the ban has been reversed on a national level, local groups have still challenged exploration efforts in individual cases leading to production delays.

Offshore may have returned to Italy, but it is still far from clear whether it can provide the diversification and revenues

Image: Rigzone.com

Originally Posted: Newsbase Euroil Monitor

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