Adri­atic oil, gas ex­plo­ration raises con­cerns for Croa­tia tourism

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY LA­JLA VE­SEL­ICA

As Croa­tia gears up for ex­plo­ration of oil and gas in the Adri­atic sea, green groups have raised con­cerns about the en­vi­ron­ment and econ­omy of the tourism-de­pen­dant coun­try’s is­lands and pris­tine coast­line.

The gov­ern­ment in Septem­ber is set to sign con­tracts with two energy groups which have been granted the right to ex­plore and drill for oil and gas in the Adri­atic for a pe­riod of up to 30 years.

“It is a very im­por­tant pro­ject for Croa­tia,” Bar­bara Doric, head of the hy­dro­car­bon agency told AFP.

By ex­ploit­ing ad­di­tional re­sources “which we as­sume we have in the Adri­atic, it will en­able the coun­try to be­come energy in­de­pen­dent and, when it comes to gas, even to be­come an ex­porter,” she said.

Two li­censes have been awarded to the INA oil group — jointly owned by the Croa­t­ian state and Hungary’s MOL — and one to Italy’s ENI and MEDOILGAS.

The gov­ern­ment is aim­ing for the pro­ject to give a much-needed boost to Croa­tia’s econ­omy, which has been mired in re­ces­sion since 2008.

Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that di­rect ben­e­fits for the state bud­get could even­tu­ally reach around one bil­lion eu­ros net profit (US$1.1 bil­lion) an­nu­ally. In­di­rect pos­i­tive ef­fects, such as de­vel­op­ment of sup­port­ing in­dus­tries or cre­at­ing new jobs in a coun­try where un­em­ploy­ment stands at 20 per­cent, should also re­sult from the ex­plo­ration.

“The domino ef­fect could be re­ally strong,” Doric said.

“Cal­cu­la­tions of po­ten­tial im­pact on the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) show it could be 3 to 4 per­cent, which is a lot.”

But ever since the pro­ject was launched it has sparked strong crit­i­cism from lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional groups con­cerned about the en­vi­ron­ment as well as the econ­omy. Many Croa­t­ians fear it could se­ri­ously harm the Balkan coun­try’s valu­able tourism in­dus­try.

Tourism, which has grad­u­ally re­cov­ered since the for­mer Yu­goslav re­pub­lic’s 1990s in­de­pen­dence war, ac­counts for around 20 per­cent of Croa­tia’s GDP. Those who op­pose the drilling claim the risks far out­weigh the pos­si­ble ben­e­fits.

“It’s

‘Rus­sian roulette’

im­pos­si­ble

to im­ple­ment this pro­ject with­out very se­ri­ous dam­age to both the en­vi­ron­ment and the lo­cal econ­omy (which is) based on tourism and the fish­ing in­dus­try,” Vjeran Pir­sic, head of the en­vi­ron­men­tal group Eko Kvarner, told AFP.

Pir­sic also claimed the off­shore oil drilling will not match the ben­e­fit from tourism which last year to­talled 7.4 bil­lion eu­ros.

“That means we are play­ing Rus­sian roulette,” he said.

Green groups warn that in the rel­a­tively small and shal­low Adri­atic sea the ex­plo­ration phase, ex­pected to last up to five years in­clud­ing seis­mic re­search and un­der­wa­ter ex­plo­sion, would se­ri­ously af­fect marine life.

The vis­ual im­pact of oil plat­forms on the hori­zon would also dis­cour­age tourists, es­pe­cially those sail­ing among Croa­tia’s thou­sands of pic­turesque is­lands and islets, they claim.

“In the worst case sce­nario it would be a to­tal dis­as­ter, we will not be able to sur­vive, our kids and grand­chil­dren will be starv­ing,” Pir­sic warned.

Croa­tia ev­ery year wel­comes as tourists al­most triple the num­ber of its 4.2 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion, with most vis­it­ing its stun­ning Adri­atic coast.

The green groups have also claimed that the pro­ject lacked a proper en­vi­ron­men­tal study and ac­cuse the author­i­ties of not con­sult­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties about it.

Last month the city coun­cil of Dubrovnik — the pearl of the Adri­atic coast — adopted a res­o­lu­tion against the drilling.

Croa­t­ians Di­vided

But Croa­t­ian author­i­ties firmly re­ject the al­le­ga­tions and say cit­i­zens were clearly in­formed about ev­ery step of the pro­ject.

“There is no room for any panic as this is a very con­trolled process,” Doric said, as­sur­ing that Croa­tia would im­ple­ment the high­est safety stan­dards.

The gov­ern­ment pointed out that ex­plo­ration for oil and gas has been on­go­ing on the Ital­ian side of the Adri­atic for decades. The first ex­plo­rations in Croa­tia started in 1970s and cur­rently there are 20 plat­forms along the coun­try’s north­ern Is­tria penin­sula ex­ploit­ing gas.

“Those who are against (the pro­ject) ... are against Croa­tia’s in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment,” Econ­omy Min­is­ter Ivan Vrdoljak said.

Croa­tia pro­duces about 60 per- cent of its own nat­u­ral gas and im­ports 80 per­cent of its an­nual oil needs.

Mean­while, Croa­t­ians re­main di­vided over the is­sue.

Sur­veys show that up to 52 per­cent of Croa­t­ians op­pose the pro­ject, cit­ing as their main con­cern tourism as they deem it more im­por­tant for the coun­try than oil and gas. Those who back the drilling say the main ben­e­fit would be that Croa­tia would be­come energy in­de­pen­dent.

“Risks would not be much greater than they are to­day, given all the plat­forms that are al­ready there, and the coun­try could cer­tainly use ad­di­tional in­come,” said Ne­nad, a 53-year-old sail­ing boat owner from Za­greb.

Ned­jeljko Lesica, a fish­er­man and for­mer res­tau­rant owner from Njivice sees it dif­fer­ently.

“Look at this beauty,” he said proudly point­ing to the crys­tal clear wa­ter in a bay of a small vil­lage on the is­land of Krk.

“This pro­ject is bad for all. Ev­ery­thing will be in dan­ger — fish­ery, tourism mostly, and we will live from that,” the 67-year-old told AFP.

“When would we re­cover in the case of a dis­as­ter? Never!”

(Right) This pic­ture taken on March 13 shows an oil plat­form “Ana­maria A” in the Adri­atic Sea near the Croa­t­ian town of Pula.

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