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Oil drilling project Ombrina Mare, Abruzzo, Italy


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 [1].

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 [2]. 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) [3]. 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 [4]. 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 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." [5]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Oil drilling project Ombrina Mare, Abruzzo, Italy
State or province:Abruzzo
Location of conflict:Costa dei Trabocchi (between Ortona and Torino di Sangro)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Oil and gas refining
Specific commodities:Natural Gas
Crude oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details

According to the estimates of the company, about 200 tons of combustion fumes will be released into the atmosphere every day; in the few months of drilling and production tests, 14 thousand tons of waste will be produced between drilling muds and more, equivalent to a cubic surface of 35 meters X 24 meters X 43.50 meters high above average sea level (like a 10-storey building ), related to the 4-6 wells that should be drilled in a project start-up period of 6-9 months. In this phase alone, 14,258.44 tons of waste would be produced, mainly drilling mud. The platform will be connected to a large Panamax-class ship re-adapted to become a real floating refinery, called Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO), positioned with anchors 10 km away from the coast. The ship would have the following dimensions: 320 meters long by 33 wide and 54 meters high (the sides will rise from the sea for 22 meters.

Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:01/10/2007
Company names or state enterprises:ROCKHOPPER from United Kingdom
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Environment, Region of Abruzzo, Municipalities of Francavilla, Ortona, San Vito Marina, Rocca San Giovanni, Fossacesia, Torino di Sangro, Casalbordino, Vasto, San Salvo.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:* Forum Abruzzese dei Movimenti per l’Acqua Pubblica - * Coordinamento Nazionale No Triv - * EmergenzAmbienteAbruzzo - * Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito Zona Ventidue - * Costituente per il Parco Nazionale della Costa Teatina - * Associazione Nuovo Senso Civico - - * Abruzzo Beni Comuni - * Stop Biocidio Abruzzo -

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Air pollution
Health ImpactsPotential: Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:The mobilizers demand the scrapping of the project and the development of an economy based on ecotourism in the National Park of the Teatina Coast (Parco Nazionale della Costa Teatina) and other landscape amenities of the territory.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Thanks to the mobilizations, the project concession has been revoked. The company sued Italy through ISDS mechanism so alert should remain high.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[3] Decreto legislativo 30 luglio 1999 n. 300

Legge 9 gennaio 1991, n. 9

Norme per l'attuazione del nuovo piano energetico nazionale: aspetti istituzionali, centrali idroelettriche ed elettrodotti, idrocarburi e geotermia, autoproduzioni e disposizioni fiscali

Decreto Legislativo 25 novembre 1996, n. 625

Attuazione della direttiva 94/22/CEE relativa alle condizioni di rilascio e di esercizio delle autorizzazioni alla prospezione, ricerca e coltivazione di idrocarburi.

Legge 21 luglio 1967, n. 613

Ricerca e coltivazione degli idrocarburi liquidi e gassosi nel mare territoriale e nella piattaforma continentale e modificazioni alla Legge 11 gennaio 1957, N.6, sulla ricerca e coltivazione degli idrocarburi liquidi e gassosi

Decreto del Presidente della Repubblica 18 aprile 1994, n. 484

Regolamento recante la disciplina dei procedimenti di conferimento dei permessi di prospezione o ricerca e di concessione di coltivazione di idrocarburi in terraferma e in mare.

Decreto Ministeriale 26 aprile 2010

Approvazione disciplinare tipo per i permessi di prospezione e di ricerca e per le concessioni di coltivazione di idrocarburi liquidi e gassosi in terraferma, nel mare territoriale e nella piattaforma continentale.

Legge 23 agosto 2004, n. 239

Riordino del settore energetico, nonché delega al Governo per il riassetto delle disposizioni vigenti in materia di energia ( come modificata ed integrata dalla Legge 23 luglio 2009, n. 99 (;99~art27%21vig=) , dal Decreto Legge 22 giugno 2012, n. 83 (;83%21vig=) convertito con modificazioni dalla Legge 7 agosto 2012, n. 134 e dal Decreto Legge 12 settembre 2014, n. 133.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries


[1] Permesso di Ricerca B.R269.GC

[2] Blog di Emergenzambiente

[4] Appello manifestazione Lanciano 23 aprile 2015


Sito di Caffè Abruzzo - Istituzioni Politica Cultura giuridica

Sito di Peacelink Abruzzo

Sito di Legambiente Abruzzo

Sito del WWF Abruzzo

Decreto legislativo 30 luglio 1999 n. 300

4. Appello manifestazione Lanciano 23 aprile 2015

3. Decreto legislativo 30 luglio 1999 n. 300

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video interview #OmbrinaMare #StopISDS Dirty Oil vs Beautiful Abruzzo: The fight against ISDS in Italy

Other comments:Read the case in the Italian platform written by local activists:

Meta information

Contributor:Daniela Del Bene, based on the data sheet published in the Italian platform (
Last update13/05/2021
Conflict ID:4573



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