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Press release: 27 July 2021
Environmental lawyers are taking urgent legal action as a new gas exploitation project threatens protected dolphins and turtles in Venice’s world-renowned gulf.
ClientEarth has joined with Legambiente, Lipu-BirdLife Italy, WWF Italy, and Greenpeace Italy to challenge the Italian authorities’ decision to allow a new gas platform with wells and pipelines to be built next to an area specifically meant to protect iconic marine mammals such as bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead sea turtles.
The gas platform, known as the ‘Teodorico Project’, would be located at the mouth of the Po Delta, a declared UNESCO World Heritage site – and on the border of a marine protected area, known as a Natura 2000 site, which was appointed to create a safe haven for some of Europe’s most important marine mammals.
The groups say that authorising a project which would adversely affect marine habitats and wildlife is a clear breach of Italian and EU nature laws, and that it should have never been given the green light.
ClientEarth marine wildlife and habitats lawyer Francesco Maletto said: “Approving this new gas platform on the border of a protected area, and without even assessing the project’s impact on it, is incomprehensible and a blatant breach of national and EU nature laws.
“The Italian authorities have an obligation to protect the country’s natural heritage not only because of its historical and economic importance, but because of the crucial role it plays in safeguarding our future.
“Two parallel crises threaten life on Earth: climate change and species loss. Prioritising fossil fuel exploitation over wildlife protection exacerbates both.”
Italy has pledged to phase out coal by 2025 but approvals like Teodorico call into question the government’s commitment to urgently quit fossil fuels.
Legambiente director Giorgio Zampetti said: “There are no longer any technical, environmental, safety, climatic, economic or transitional excuses that justify the gas race in our country and in our seas. Actions like this will mean global climate goals are unachievable, which would be disastrous. We need to invest in renewable energies instead of gas production. We don't need a new platform which appears to be the worst possible answer.”
In Italy, the project has also been met with public and political outcry from across the political spectrum. A claim has already been filed by the management of the Po Regional Park, nine municipalities and the Province of Rovigo.
Concerns have also been raised that the Teodorico project will further increase the risk of the coast gradually collapsing, which is already occurring at an alarming rate due to the fossil fuel exploitation already taking place in the region.
Lipu-BirdLife Italy Natura 2000 officer Giorgia Gaibani said: "Italy urgently needs to ensure the effective management of its Natura 2000 network in the marine environment. This project, however, goes completely against that duty: as the project would be located near a Natura 2000 site, it clearly would have a negative impact on biodiversity both in the Gulf and on land. The latter is further compounded by the subsidence taking place there."
The European Commission has already opened an infringement proceeding against Italy for failing to map out its Natura 2000 sites and for inadequately covering the habitat types and species that need protection.
Greenpeace Italy campaign director Alessandro Giannì said: “The decision to approve this project is a gross and unjustifiable mistake. It gives the first green light to the exploitation of more methane gas fields, which even Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, has acknowledged is a powerful driver of climate change and a source of air pollution. Despite clear national provisions, this project would be built near an area protected by EU laws. There are only two alternatives: either Minister Cingolani is ignoring the existence of this Natura 2000 site, or he believes that it should not be considered a protected area. We do not know which option is worse.”
WWF Italy legal and legislative director Patrizia Fantilli said: “The Italian authorities’ decision to use obsolete logic and rules to approve the Teodorico project means they are choosing fossil fuel exploitation over their obligation to protect this Natura 2000 site – a site where the ecological balance is already seriously threatened. Italian authorities must recognise the significant impact this project will have on the area. Pursuing this project is foolish and a clear breach of the law.”
The Teodorico project was approved by Ministerial Decree in March 2021 by the Italian Ministry of Ecological Transition, in agreement with the Italian Ministry of Culture.
The environmental groups have filed a legal action before the President of the Italian Republic with the aim of annulling the Ministerial Decree.
The Teodorico project is owned by Po Valley Operations PTY LTD, and would be comprised of a gas exploitation platform, two wells and two pipelines. The new platform would connect to an existing one, operated by ENI, the Italian hydrocarbon multinational.
The complex would be located off the Po Delta, in the Gulf of Venice (44°44’51.77 N 12°43’44.19 E). Due to its historical and ecological importance, the Po Delta is a classified UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Teodorico Project would border the ‘North Venetian Adriatic – Po Delta’ marine protected area, which was recently appointed for the conservation of protected species such as the bottlenose dolphin and loggerhead sea turtle. The Italian authorities have also proposed the marine protected area as a Site of Community Importance (SCI), or ‘Natura 2000 site’, under EU law.
The wider North-Adriatic has also been identified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Task Force on Marine Mammals as an “Important Marine Mammal Area”.
According to an Italian law introduced in 2010, offshore hydrocarbons activities are prohibited within 12 miles from the border of marine protected areas. Under this provision, the Teodorico project would be located at a distance that would make its authorisation unlawful.
According to the environmental groups, the Italian authorities also failed to abide by EU nature laws by not assessing the severe impacts the future gas project would have on the protected site and wildlife – a mandatory step before a project can be approved.
The approval of the Teodorico project is also incoherent with the development of a nationwide plan aimed at identifying suitable sites for hydrocarbons-related projects. While the plan is being developed, all research and prospective activities are banned. The ban does not directly concern the Teodorico project, but the plan may reveal – pending the release of Teodorico’s exploitation license – that the site is unsuitable and can no longer go ahead.
The European Commission’s infringement proceeding against Italy’s failure to map out its Natura 2000 sites identifies serious gaps in protecting marine species, such as the Mediterranean monk seal, the loggerhead sea turtle and the bottlenose dolphin, as well as marine habitats like reefs.
ClientEarth: Bianca Vergnaud; firstname.lastname@example.org; +32 (0) 471 88 70 95
Greenpeace Italy: Felice Moramarco; email@example.com; +39 348 76 30 682
Lipu-BirdLife Italy: Andrea Mazza; firstname.lastname@example.org; +39 340 36 42 091
Legambiente: Valentina Barresi; email@example.com; +39 346 23 08 590
WWF Italy: Giulia Ciarlariello; firstname.lastname@example.org; +39 334 6151811
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.