A referendum to be held next Sunday in Italy could shape the country’s energy policy for decades to come.
The ballot was triggered by a request from nine regional councils and passed by the Constitutional Court. It is the first time such a move has happened in Italy.
It is about a new law to allow existing oil companies to extract gas and oil within 12 nautical miles of the Italian shores.
Of the 100 odd oilfields offshore three are at risk from the referendum as their licences expire next year. A ‘yes’ vote will bring an end to drilling. Under the current system a licence was granted for a fixed period normally 30 years.
But to decide the future fate of the oil fields and for the referendum to be valid a quorum of 50 percent plus one must be reached.
Voting has sparked a political polemic with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi saying he will not vote. Others believe it is vital to take part.
“Vote at the referendum, in the way you feel you should vote. But I think it is important to vote, because by voting you are participating in civic life. The referendum is being held for each one of us,” said Paolo Grossi, Constitutional Court President.
The regional assemblies called for the vote over concerns about seismic stability and the environment while also contending, according to their data that the country is not investing enough in green energy. They want a political change in setting the energy policy of the future.
If the yes vote prevails then upstream operators will be forced to stop drilling once their licences expire. Experts reckon that could curb the country’s gas production by about 9 percent this year.
If the no vote wins out things will carry on as normal and licence holders will be able to exploit oilfields until the gas or oil is exhausted.
At the moment Italian gas supplies three percent of the national need and Italian oil one percent. The largest part of the oil and gas is for export.
But history is against the referendum reaching its quorum. Since 1995 only one succeeded in doing that while six other popular votes on issues could not be validated as they did not reach the necessary quorum.