Gas supply: the Adriatic paradox

While gas prices are skyrocketing, Europe is not exhausting all of the gas reserves on its territory. This applies in particular to deposits on the Adriatic Sea between Italy and Croatia.

You can see it well from the Lido Dante beach, thirteen kilometers south of Ravenna. The Angela Angelina platform has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was installed in 1972 and is still pumping gas that is delivered by pipeline to the port of Ravenna. A hundred platforms remain in Italian waters of the Adriatic, remnants of a time when Italy pumped twenty-one billion cubic meters of gas annually. But in 2019, the first government of Giuseppe Conte, under pressure from the 5-Star Movement, imposed a moratorium, explains Franco Nanni, the president of the offshore operators: “In 2019, the government changed plans for the distribution of offshore prospects in the Adriatic Sea and all hydrocarbon exploration and production activities were then completely blocked.”

Franco Nanni regrets this political decision, since Italy is now one of the largest gas consumers in Europe, especially to supply its power plants. The country imports 70 billion cubic meters of gas a year, a paradox since pumping a cubic meter into the Adriatic costs five cents while importing it costs just over a euro. “We pay a lot more for it, we pollute more because we burn the gas to transport it and above all we relieve Italian companies of work”, pity Franco Nanni.

An ordinary glass and two straws

Italy would be one of the few countries in the world to have significant gas reserves without exploiting them. Davide Tabarelli, administrator of Nomisma, a company specializing in energy analysis, estimates that this abandoned treasure at the bottom of the Adriatic is worth more than eight billion euros: “In the northern Adriatic alone there is 50 billion cubic meters of gas that can be exploited immediately. On the map we see the wells of the Croatian oil company, along Italian territorial waters the Croats have dipped their straw into our common glass and are pumping it all away while we give money to Putin… 80 cents per cubic meter!”

For a better understanding you have to cross the Adriatic Sea, the Croatian platforms are in front of Pula, in Istria. A new deposit called Irena 2 was discovered in September 2020 and will be in production from 2024. Ivan Brodic, the editor-in-chief of Energypress, a Croatian site specializing in energy, explains why Croatia has never imposed a moratorium on research in the Adriatic despite pressure from conservationists: “Let’s say that each new gas field is very important to us because currently we only produce 25% of our needs from our own fields.”

In addition to drilling, small Croatia clearly shows its ambition to become indispensable for the energy supply of Central Europe. A huge gas terminal was inaugurated on the island of Kerk, largely financed by the European Union. “With this terminal, the European Union and NATO want to make Central Europe increasingly independent of gas from Russia” explains Ivan Brodic.

Essential for the energy transition over the next twenty years, the hunt for gas in the Adriatic is back on, Italy has just announced the lifting of its moratorium on new offshore drilling, but it will be years before the deposits are exploitable again.

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