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The future is alternative, sustainable sources of energy. We don’t want the oil companies! This can be an independent state, a Puglia free from the oil companies
Alessandro Mancini slaps the wooden table square with his palm as he talks. I am sat in a warm kitchen discussing gas pipelines with Alessandro and his wife Maria. The couple moved to Puglia, in Southern Italy, two years ago from Denmark – where Maria was born. The Mancinis and their two teenage children transformed their lives to move to Puglia; giving up a successful Danish business to grow organic vegetables. The couple use their 13 hectares of land to grow chicory, salad, aubergines, tomatoes and sell these to other people in the community and tourists during the summer. They also have 200 olive trees (a small number in a region where many people have at least 1000) and produce olive oil – using the pits to heat their house.
Maria and Alessandro would love to have a wind turbine to produce their own energy but the costs are prohibitive – as they are for most people in the municipality. It is an area where people do not have or need large amounts of money. Most people aim to support themselves, not to accumulate much extra income. Houses don’t have central heating as people rely on burning olive pits and wood to keep cosy in an area where winters are mild and short. While this liberates folks from large heating bills, electricity remains one of their largest expenses. Alessandro’s ambition to be free of both fossil fuels and the exorbitant prices charged by energy companies was something I heard many times during the course of a few days.
I met Maria and Alessandro two weeks ago when I travelled from London to the municipality of Melendugno in Southern Italy. This small collection of towns and villages have, over the past three years, been quietly organising an impressive resistance to a huge piece of infrastructure – the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline. If built, the pipeline would run over 4000 kms from the Caspian Sea off the coast of Azerbaijan, through Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, across the seabed of the Adriatic before breaking land by the village of San Foca in the municipality of Melendugno. And it won’t even end there – the gas will then be pumped via another pipeline from southern to northern Italy.
At Platform we’ve spent the past year looking at the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline, meeting with Azerbaijani democracy activists who have told us how the country’s oil and gas wealth is being used to entrench the country’s repressive dictator Ilham Aliyev. The citizens of Melendugno got a head start on us – they began organising against this pipeline three years ago.
Their story begins even earlier with the building of a waste plant in Melendugno. The waste plant arrived without warning and without permission from the local community. A developer bought a piece of land and the waste plant suddenly appeared. By the time anyone in the community realised what was going on, it was too late. This unaccountability shocked people and left the community determined to understand the implications of particular pieces of infrastructure before they are built. In addition many people have friends living in the nearby town of Brindisi where a coal-fired powered station has created health problems for the local community.
And so in 2010 when a resident discovered that the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) – a crucial section of the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline – was supposed to land in the region, a group formed to quickly analyse what this meant. Originally the pipeline was supposed to come ashore in Brinidisi but in 2010 the location was switched to the far less developed Melendugno. The community also discovered that it wasn’t just TAP that was landing in the region, there were also plans for the Poseidon gas pipeline to be built at Otranto, just a few kilometres further down the coast. While details about Poseidon remained sketchy (including where the gas will originate from), it was clear that energy companies were eyeing up Puglia as a pipeline destination point. The residents have twice got Poseidon rejected but now they have had to shift their attention to TAP, as thousands of kilometres away the Aliyev regime and BP are determining that gas will be pumped into Europe. So a number of smaller local associations came together to form the No TAP committee – some were environmental groups, some were political groups, some were residents associations. The result is an incredibly well organised bunch of folks who are not only unequivocally rejecting a piece of fossil fuel infrastructure but also proactively seeking alternatives.
As Maria Mancini told me
This idea is crazy, it makes no sense. It is going to ruin the landscape and the people. The people who live here don’t want this. We will get dumped with it because we are not rich enough to get listened to when we say no.
Rich they might not be, but the people of Melendugno are impressively well organised. They’ve already produced an 80 page counter-Environmental Impact Assessment, pointing out many problems with the companies’ impact assessment. BP, Aliyev and the TAP committee are not going to have it all their own way in this beautiful corner of Italy.