Billion-Dollar Pipeline Threatens Olive Grove in Southern Italy

Local and national authorities are going head to head over an olive grove standing in the way of a 545-mile pipeline project.

Dec. 19, 2016
By Mary Hernandez

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A UNESCO-pro­tected olive grove of located in Puglia, Italy is stand­ing in the way of pro­posed Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project val­ued at over $45 mil­lion. This pipeline would trans­port gas from cen­tral Asia to the mil­lions of homes in var­i­ous regions in the European Union in order to wean Europe off its depen­dence on Russian energy sup­plies.

The tiny olive grove is known as the Piana degli Ulivi” (Plain of Olive Trees) and con­sists of less than 250 trees, some of which are almost 500 years old and are con­sid­ered nat­ural archae­o­log­i­cal mon­u­ments. Unlike many other UNESCO pro­tected land­marks, the Piana degli Ulivi is unique in that it has remained pro­duc­tive through­out its exis­tence and is still pro­duc­tive today.

The grove is located just out­side the town of Melendugno and local Authorities in Puglia and Melendugno are threat­en­ing to go to the Italian Constitutional Court if the pipeline goes ahead. They allege that they were not con­sulted by the Roman gov­ern­ment before the project began and that con­sti­tu­tional law dic­tates that inter­na­tional pipeline projects such as the TAP legally require regional con­sent.

Other groups who could be con­sid­ered as oppos­ing the pipeline project include farm­ers and oil pro­duc­ers in the region as well as those involved in the local agri­cul­tural and tourism busi­nesses (the TAP would run through the pop­u­lar San Foca beach­front on the Salento coast).

While the pro­posed pipeline only inter­sects through the Piana degli Ulivi in the last five miles of its total 545-mile length, it would involve the pri­mary olive grove being destroyed and the 10,000 other trees being moved and replanted — an agree­ment bro­kered between the devel­op­ers and Roman author­i­ties directly.

Locals believe that the trees may not sur­vive the move and risk con­tract­ing Xylella fas­tidiosa. Earlier this year, the European Food Safety Authority iden­ti­fied this strain of bac­terium as one par­tic­u­larly lethal for olive trees and it has already been respon­si­ble for the demise of over a mil­lion trees in the region. In the past, erad­i­ca­tion plans to treat the dis­ease involve destroy­ing all trees with 100 meters of any plants affected with the dis­ease.

On December 4, a ref­er­en­dum was put for­ward by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to reform Italian con­sti­tu­tional law, directly pitched local and national author­i­ties against each other in a bat­tle for power. The ref­er­en­dum was defeated by a wide mar­gin, leav­ing Puglia and Melendugno still within their rights to pre­vent the TAP from advanc­ing any fur­ther.

Despite this, the con­sor­tium behind the pipeline (includ­ing Belgian, Spanish and Swiss cor­po­ra­tions) are con­fi­dent that the pipeline will go for­ward as planned, with short­ened time­line the only con­se­quence they intend to be deal­ing with.

However, if the project does not pro­ceed by April next year, it will need to wait until November 2017. Local author­i­ties dic­tated that this would be the next avail­able win­dow when the 10,000 olive trees will enter a slow growth phase, allow­ing them to be moved safely.


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