Since the 1950s, the stretch of coast in the Abruzzo region has been of interest to oil companies. First AGIP (1955-1970), then GULF Italy (1970-1973) and the Italian branch of ELF (1975-2000) tried to get permission for drilling but eventually both withdrew. Only the construction of the Ombrina Mare 1 well went forward. In 2002, the Gas Company of Concordia S.p.A. submitted an application for a research permit (d.491B.R.-GC), which was obtained in 2005 (B.R269.GC) for a duration of 6 years .
The conflict between the population and oil activities essentially starts in autumn 2007, when the announcement of the project called "Centro Oli" in Ortona went public. In a few months, the popular protest moved the entire political class from the initially convinced assent to total opposition, despite the fact that the "Centro Oli" had acquired all the authorizations required by law. Concerns included issues related to the environment, earthquake risks, local fisheries, and potential losses in the tourism-related activities.
On March 15, 2008, thousands of people took to the streets in Pescara against oil drilling and protesting for the many environmental emergencies of the region. The organization EmergenzAmbienteAbruzzo is born, a network that unites associations, committees, movements, production activities . The resulting mobilization led to a new awareness among the population and the birth of a strong movement capable of opposing many more projects throughout the Region.
Following the sale of a business unit, on July 28, 2005 the company Intergas Più S.r.l. became the holder of the permit. This company filed an application for environmental compatibility for the construction of the Ombrina Mare 2 well. The favorable opinion arrived on 6 December 2007. It was then in 2008 when Medoilgas entered the scene, following the transfer of shares from the company Intergas Più Srl. Medoilgas completed the Ombrina Mare 2 Well which, according to the estimates of the Società Italiana Mineraria (Italian mining society), would contain 20 million barrels of oil and 140-250 million cubic meters of gas. Therefore, the company submitted an application for a drilling concession (d30B.C.-MD), within the area relating to the research permit d.491B.R.-GC.
After the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the Prestigiacomo Decree imposed a ban on oil extraction for five miles (12 miles in the presence of Protected Areas) . The authorization process of Ombrina Mare 2 was therefore also stopped.
In autumn 2012 the "Passera Decree" abolished this ban and, shortly after, the process of Ombrina Mare 2 restarts. The mobilization of associations, committees, movements, citizens, even institutions is immediately activated and will reach its "peak" with the demonstration of 13 April 2013, when 40,000 people participated in Pescara in what was the largest event (up to 2013) that Abruzzo remembers. Another demonstration took place in San Vito Marina on 23 August 2013 and was organized by the Zone 22 Self-managed Occupied Social Center to demand the scrap of Ombrina and other impacting projects in the region and the creation of the Costa Teatina National Park. Months after the Pescara event, the Ministry of the Environment decided to submit the entire project to the procedure for the Integrated Environmental Authorization (AIA in the Italian acronym), and not only for the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) as previously requested. Against this decision, Medoil appealed to the Lazio Regional Administrative Court, which was rejected in April 2014, and subsequently to the Council of State. In rejecting the Medoil appeal, the TAR recognized the importance of establishing the Costa Teatina National Park and the regional law on overflows.
After a few months, on 6 March 2015, unexpectedly, the national VIA-SEA Commission gave "a favorable opinion with prescription number 1154 of 25 January 2015" to the EIA for Ombrina Mare. The mobilization immediately resumed: on 29 March over 500 people attended the assembly hosted by the Zona22 Self-Managed Occupied Social Center which launched the demonstration on 23 May in Lanciano . An event that exceeded all possible expectations, 60,000 people marched through the city center, 482 memberships received from committees, associations, movements, institutions. A bold NO! to the Ombrina project was also confirmed during the Zero Drilling Festival organized in Zona22.
Meanwhile, on November 5, the Abruzzo Regional Council votes for the establishment of the "Trabocchi del Chietino and Costa Frentana" Regional Marine Park. Only a few days later, on the 9th, the Ministry for Economic Development incredibly closes the conference of services for Ombrina ignoring the marine park and the requests of local authorities. When Ombrina was practically one step away, on December 23rd, an amendment to the stability law changed the 12-mile legislation, thus blocking the authorization process. On February 5th, the notice of "closure of proceedings and rejection" of the Ombrina Mare drilling project is published in the Bollettino Ufficiale degli Idrocarburi e delle Georisorse, BUIG.
In the months of July and August 2016 the Rockhopper also definitively dismantled the exploration well and the tripod of just over 10 meters which had been standing in front of the coast of San Vito Chietino and Rocca San Giovanni since 2008. The people's demand in Abruzzo was finally heard.
However, in 2017, Rockhopper Exploration sued Italy though an ISDS mechanism over the state’s refusal to grant it a concession for oil drilling in the Adriatic Sea. As the website 10isdsstories.org explains, "Rockhopper’s lawsuit is based on the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), even though Italy had withdrawn from it before the suit was filed. This is possible because of the deeply anti-democratic ‘survival’, or ‘zombie’, a clause in investment agreements, which allows the corporate privileges to live on even after a country has withdrawn from the agreement. For any investments made before Italy’s ECT withdrawal took effect (1 January 2016) it can still be sued for twenty years (until 1 January 2036). So, despite having exited the ECT, Italy could still be subject to many more Rockhopper-style legal attacks."
According to the site, "Rockhopper had bought the Ombrina Mare license in the midst of mounting rage against the project in the summer of 2014 (via a takeover of Mediterranean Oil & Gas, the previous license holder). So, the company must have been well aware that the project not only lacked several approvals but also suffered from a lack of public and political support. And yet, Rockhopper announced in March 2017 that it had challenged Italy’s refusal to grant the concession in an arbitration tribunal and had “strong prospects of recovering very significant monetary damages… on the basis of lost profits.”
According to the company’s boss, Rockhopper is not just claiming compensation for the money which it actually spent on exploring Ombrina Mare (US$40-50 million). It also wants an additional US$200-300 million for hypothetical profits the oil field could have made had it not been banned. While many countries’ constitutions do not consider anticipated profits to be protected private property, in investor-state disputes companies regularly receive compensation for alleged lost future profits."