Fearing risk to their beaches and fishing economy, the region of Puglia and others want the southern portions of the Adriatic closed off to drilling.
(CN) — Opponents of offshore drilling in the Adriatic Sea suffered a setback on Thursday when a European Union magistrate saw nothing wrong with the way Italian authorities handed out exploration permits to an Australian-British oil and gas company.
In a legal opinion, Gerard Hogan, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice, said the Italian government did not violate EU laws in 2013 when it accepted four separate permit applications from Global Petroleum Ltd. to explore the southern Adriatic Sea.
Hogan's legal opinion serves as advice to the Court of Justice, the EU's highest court. Although opinions by advocates general are not binding, the court often follows their legal guidance.
After Italian ministries allowed Global to move ahead with submitting environmental impact studies, the regional government of Puglia called it unlawful to grant the same operator four separate permits.
But Global applied for four separate permits because it wants to explore a much larger area. Under Italian law, each offshore exploration permit cannot cover an area larger than 750 square kilometers (about 290 square miles). In all, Global wants permission to explore about 3,000 square kilometers of the Adriatic (about 1,158 square miles), covering waters between Bari and Brindisi, two cities along the Adriatic coast in Puglia.
Drilling is an emotional issue along the Adriatic because of fears over oil spills and frustration that fossil fuel development is being encouraged even as the EU has made slowing global warming a top priority. The Adriatic is lined with beaches, coves, and picturesque towns and cities that rely heavily on tourism. Fishing too is very important.
The case against Global's permits ended up before Italy's Council of State, a high court over administrative matters, in Rome. That court is asking the Court of Justice in Luxembourg for a ruling on the issue.
Puglia argued that the Italian government unlawfully circumvented the rule about permits not exceeding 750 square-kilometers by giving Global contiguous permits.
But in his opinion, Hogan said there was nothing in EU law to preclude the Italian government from giving the same operator more than one exploration permit.
Global Petroleum is made up of a group of companies with headquarters in Australia and the United Kingdom. On its website, the company says it is most active in the waters off Namibia in West Africa but interested in the Mediterranean Sea too.
Puglia's challenge in Italy has halted the company's plans.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
Follow Cain Burdeau on Twitter
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