The fearless battle of an entire region to protect our land, our beaches, our health, our traditions, our communities, our future. One by one, we have empowered the common man using the irresistible weapons of knowledge. To the oil companies that intend to destroy us, ENI, Petroceltic, MOG, Edison, Shell: let it be crystal clear.

You are not welcome here.

We will fight to the bitter end.

We shall defeat you.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ENI's shame

It was meant to be a secret project, with backhand dealings and discussions between a few corrupt, or at best incompetent, government officials and the oil company ENI. Absolutely no involvement of the people. Just like during colonial times, they took out a map of Abruzzo and decided where and when to start drilling. No questions asked. And not just an oil rig here or there, but fifty per cent of our land. No newspaper reports, no citizen councils, no transparent reports for the public. Nada.

Today after seven years since this story began, we are closer than ever to saving our land from big oil.

Ortona is a sleepy town of about 22,000 people in Abruzzo, with a thriving farming and winemaking industry. There is also fishing and some tourism. Tradition holds that the body of Saint Thomas, the apostle that did not believe the Christ had been resurrected, was taken and buried here after his death. World war two was fiercely fought all around Ortona between Germans and Canadians. About 1,200 uniformed Canadian young men are buried here. Our town is known in history books as the "Little Stalingrad" of Italy.

Ortona also used to host a logistic and an oil storage center for ENI, Italy's largest oil company. The facility was created right after World War II at the same time port facilities were being created from the rubble. The center was dismantled in 2001, due to ENI's internal reorganizing.

Life seemed easy and peaceful in Ortona until, in April 2007, people of the small neighborhood "il Feudo" started smelling a nauseous rotten egg odor in the air. They started observing unusual convoys from the oil company ENI (NYSE:ENI) coming through their lands. Three friends met by chance under an olive tree during their siesta time and started asking questions.

What was this smell? What was the black smoke coming out of the ground? Some had been told ENI was going to build some underground storage facilities. Was it true and why did they need to build new storage facilities in the midst of their wineries?

It was all so fishy and questions kept haunting Giusto, Gabriele and Carlo. They soon incorporated themselves into a tiny association, called Comitato Natura Verde, the committee for green nature. In time it would be known all over Abruzzo as a group of heroic citizens who stood up to big oil.

The three friends started investigating. It has been impossible to properly retrace
the official paperwork trail, because virtually nothing has been divluged to the press, nor to the people. But this is what we know:

On February 11th 2001
ENI announced to its shareholders that an exploration well, called "Miglianico 1" had been drilled in Ortona and that oil had been recovered at about 5km under the ground. They did not report that the oil well had been drilled in prime winemaking land.

At the time, politicians and administrators in Ortona were trying to work with ENI, hoping to save jobs in Ortona. The company was internally restructuring their local facilities and about 350 mid-level positions were at risk. ENI was planning to relocate their upper management to Ravenna, 300 miles to the north. Strikes and negotiations were not successful and eventually ENI shut down in Ortona.

In a last minute effort to keep ENI's precence in Ortona, the unions brought unofficial discussions of the oil wells to the table, asking ENI what they planned to do with the new rigs and whether the new found oil could be used to keep some of these at risk jobs in Ortona. ENI's position was that the oil wells were not viable due to their high sulfur content and modest availability.

The oil company packed up and went to Ravenna. The Miglianico oil well idled for a few years, a little red curious knob coming out of the ground, surrounded by green wine plants. No one talked about it anymore.

Fast forward five years.

On July 24th 2006 ENI filed paperwork to build an oil desulfurization plant in Ortona. Local authorities were forced to deny the necessary permits on September 1st of that same year, since the proposed parcel of land was designated as agricultural and not industrial.

Suspecting such a negative outcome, ENI tried a different strategy to force its way through regulations. On August 10th 2006, they had filed a request to the regional government for an expedited exemption meant to bypass the standard process and revise zoning laws in their own interest.

The regional council met on April 4th 2007 to discuss the oil refinery plant. Various agencies participated in that meeting, including the provincial health unit, ASL (Azienda Sanitaria Locale) of Chieti which has jurisdiction over the city of Ortona. The ASL representative classified ENI’s proposed activity as ‘noxious of grade 1’, its more severe ranking for toxic units, and recommended ENI utilize and continuosly upgrade “the best possible tecnhology to abate emissions from the refinery plant” . The water agency for the region of Abruzzo, ARTA (Azienda Regionale per il Territorio e l'Acqua), also added that in case of malfunctions exhaust fumes from the refinery would be directly released to the atmosphere.

Minutes of the meeting reveal that ENI was less than candid in revealing the scope of its operations in Abruzzo, and that “only partial data” was released to governmental authorities,
who themselves did not let inform the public.

A new meeting was called for April 20th 2007, where ENI presented a more detailed report, but which still lacked key information and explanations. According to the briefings, the medical representative from ASL denounced once again that ENI had not discussed at all “ the exact methods for transportation and transformation of exhaust gases, the chemical substances that would be used, the exact water consumption rates and where the water would come from, how any wastewater would be disposed of, and whether during the treatment of crude oil any particularly toxic or dangerous transformation method would be employed.” The head of the regional fire unit claimed that “the documentation produced” did not allow him to express a complete and definite opinion.

These briefings were viewed by members of the CNV, months after the meetings had occurred and inexplicably these documents have been tampered with: many pages, statements and signatures have been deleted.

On April 26th 2007, the ASL representative filed a motion for better control and analysis of necessary and mitigating infrastructures, such as wastewater treatment, noise and pollution abatement. The motion was never considered and was basically ignored by all parties involved.

The next day, April 27th 2007, the final meeting regarding approval for the oil refinery was held in Ortona. After 35 minutes, and with none of the previous issues being discussed or resolved, the oil refinery plant was approved and any and all impediments removed. ASL had signed on. The mayor of Ortona did not have any objections. The head of the fire unit also had gaven his approval. It was a done deal. Within two weeks all major governmental offices had given their aproval.

Prime wine land was thus designated to become a desulfurizaition plant for the treatement of heavy and sour oil, of the worst kind, and without any involvement whatsoever of the residents. All these meetings were held semi-secretly, were never properly advertised to the people and were never reported by the media.

In Italy, approval of building plans usually take months. People have waited up to two years to get permits to build garage units for their homes. It is remarkable that in this case all permits were given to ENI in the space of only 2 weeks, by the city of Ortona and by the region of Abruzzo.

Why were all environmental concerns ignored?

Why did the city officials of Ortona, ultimately, give in so easily to ENI, without informing the people, or themselves for that matter, about the consequence of oil rigs, refinery plants and pipelines in the midst of a wine district? Without ever opening honest discussions? Without acknowledging their conflicts of interest? The answer is simple: greed and corruption.

The mayor of Ortona, was and still is, Nicola Fratino, who stands to gain enourmously from the oil refinery plant. He was elected in a center-right coalition in the same political party as Italy’s current prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The party is called Forza Italia.

Together with his brother Sergio, Mr. Fratino owns a maritime company “Fratino G e figli SRL” and “Buonefra” , a construction company that had joined CIA, a consortium of local entrepeneurships. CIA, (Consorzio Imprese Abruzzesi) was formally incorporated in 2002 with the sole aim of providing construction and logistic services to ENI, as stated in the paperwork filed to the Chamber of Commerce. The idea behind CIA was that having a sole entity, instead of many smaller builders, would force ENI to contract its work to them, if ever the oil that ENI had discovered in Ortona was to be refined or commercialized.

As stated, CIA’s mission was to “contract and supply infrastructure for the oil industry” and to “create a a dynamic structure that could offer ENI-AGIP global services in Ortona.”

The cost of the operation was estimated at around 600M euros, and indeed, ENI would have to go through them, since most of the main political players who forced this project on the region were part of CIA or affiliated to them.

In addition, since the oil refinery project also included a pipeline to the port and the shipping of treated oil from the Ortona port, the two Fratino brothers were also to gain from the passage of oil tankers. Their company is in fact the sole port concession authority in Ortona.

The vice mayor of Ortona, a lawyer by the name of Remo di Martino, allegedly even offered legal services to Ortona throughout the dezulfurization plant approval affair.

Ever since this story surfaced to the public, in mid 2007, the mayor and vice mayor of Ortona has maintained that oil is compatible with agriculture and tourism, that it will bring us wealth and prosperity and that there will be no pollution nor health hazards to the people. They have been the greatest advocates for ENI in Ortona. They are both lawyers by training and neither of them have scientific, medical, or economic backgrounds. However, there are astute businessmen and clearly recognize the wealth and properity this project will bring to them personally.

If Mayor Fratino were not involved with CIA, could this project have been approved in an unprecendented two weeks? How much does the prospect of monetary gain blind him to what scientists, economists and medical doctors have been repeating for months, that a desulfurization plant is incompatible with the particular geographic, economic and social setting of Ortona?

Although repeatedly invited by the local press to explain his position, and his ideas, Mayor Fratino has always refused public debates or interviews on this topic.

Aside from Mr. Fratino, here are other members of CIA:

Sergio Bazzanini – president, Francescopaolo Cianci, vicepresident. Councilpersons: Calogero Marrollo, Francesco D’Alessandro, Tommaso Nervegna.

Here are the other companies that belong to CIA. SRL means societa’ a responsabilita’ limitata and is the equivalent of an American LLC company.

Cor Pro Italia SRL:
Maurizio Chiavaroli CEO, Gianfranco Buccella president, Ennio Buccella and Gianfranco Piccirilli, vice-presidents. Petroleum contractors, based in Pescara, Via Cadute del forte.

Iniziative industriali SRL:
Incorporated in 1987 within COSMI, an oil company that operates also in Kazakistam and Libia. They specialize in prefabrication, assembly, electrical wiring and maintenance of oil plants.

Societa’ meridionale inerti SRL:
Located in Vasto they specialize in building residential and commercial real estate. The head of the company is Calogero Marrollo, also at the head of the association of industry owners called Confindustria Abruzzo. Confindustria Abruzzo has also publicly declared its support to the oil desulfurization plant.

Marrollo Costruzioni SRL:
This company was founded by same Calogero Marrollo of above.

CMTI Society Petroleum SRL:
Rocco d’Arielli is the owner and CEO. Ivan e Tommaso D’Arielli and Luisella Bernabeo also belong to the company. They are based in Ortona and specialize in prefabrication, assembly and maintenance of petrochemical plants, both onshore and offshore.

Fratelli Nervegna autotrasporti SRL:
Trucking company. Its president in Tommaso Nervegna, who also belongs to the city council of Ortona, in the same right-wing political party of mayor Fratino.

Galeno RP SRL:
Environmental and safety consultants since 1987. They have divisions focussing on environmental engineering, chemical, physical and microbiological analysis and medical dignostics.

Buonefra SRL:
The company was founded in 1974 by the father of mayor Fratino, by the Nervegna brothers (the same of the trucking company) and by Giuseppe Buontempo. They operated as truckers, martime agents and as a construction company. It was Buonefra SRL that built the current port of Ortona., transforming a few miles of touristic shore into a commerical port.

Progepi SRL:
Another company that belongs to COSMI, the same of Iniziative industriali SRL. Since 1988 the company works as project designers for chemical, petroleum, ecologic plants.

Fabrizio Lazzari:
His role is not known, but hs is formally part of CIA.