After environmentalists protested and the State Audit Institution warned Montenegro isn’t prepared to tackle an oil spill, the Ministry of Capital Investments said it won’t cancel the exploratory drilling in the Adriatic, but that the issue can be publicly discussed after it.
If it called off the upcoming exploratory oil and gas drilling, Montenegro would need to pay Italian company Eni and its Russian partner Novatek at least EUR 35 million to EUR 40 million, the Ministry of Capital Investments said. Faced with opposition from environmentalist groups, it stressed that the reserves and the potential for exploration must be determined and that a public discussion can be held after that in order to reach a decision.
The damages are actually difficult to estimate and the said sum refers to the two companies’ investments in the first, four-year exploration phase, so it should be increased by subsequent expenditure, “also significant funds,” according to the ministry. The drilling is scheduled to start tomorrow.
Lack of resources for sea cleaning in case of toxic substance spill
On top of the demands from the nongovernmental sector to cancel the concession for the Adriatic Sea, the controversy was fueled by the State Audit Institution’s (DRI) finding that Montenegro doesn’t have the necessary equipment to protect the environment if a major incident occurs. Together with the possibility of an oil spill, the preliminary report includes all potential events that would lead to the release of hazardous materials.
Adžić: Oil platforms pollute less than ships
DRI said not all the activities envisaged in the research program were conducted, adding that the recommendations and measures for environmental protection were ignored.
Interim head of the Montenegro Hydrocarbon Administration Marko Adžić told public media outlet RTCG the project has a neglectable impact and that the ecosystem is fully protected, and claimed the drilling and seismic activity aren’t corelated. He also said oil platforms pollute less than ships and noted that four wells were safely drilled so far.
Damages paid to companies would be smaller than potential blow to tourism
On the same day, representatives of environmental protection groups left the meeting with Adžić and the ministry’s State Secretary Marko Perunović and accused them of inappropriate and aggressive behavior.
“If we know the income from tourism from before the pandemic was above EUR 1 billion per year, it is clear that the cancellation of the contract is equivalent to tourism income from just a handful of days, while the damage from the potential consequences would be measured in decades – no one knows how big it could be, as the research that was supposed to be conducted before the activity starts weren’t thorough enough,” said environmentalists from KOD, Green Home, Dr Martin Schneider-Jacoby Association, Center for Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro (CZIP), Naša akcija and Eko korijen.
Environmental activist Zenepa Lika from the seaside town of Ulcinj in the country’s far south said the project isn’t transparent and that the local population didn’t have the opportunity to learn the details. “There is no vision. Short-term benefits remain more important to us than the development of a green economy,” she stressed and asserted that tourism isn’t compatible with oil exploration.
All oil platforms in the Adriatic were installed in the 1970s, when environmental awareness wasn’t developed, and there is no justification for setting up new ones, Green Home said earlier.
The exploratory drilling site is 26 kilometers from the coast. The works are planned to last up to half a year. The 30-year concession agreement was signed in 2016.