Ravenna is the Aberdeen of Italy.

From the beach near the north-eastern Italian port, you can see the silhouettes of the oil and gas platforms on the Adriatic horizon.

The mining of what used to be called black gold has dominated the economy of Ravenna, with a population of 160,000, since significant deposits were found off the coast in the 1950s.

Christian Schubert

Economic correspondent for Italy and Greece.

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But then oil and gas fell into disrepute;

the Italian government imposed a drilling freeze three years ago.

This was later softened again, but much legal uncertainty remained.

This accelerated the withdrawal of the industry.

“Our member companies currently employ 4,000 to 5,000 people.

Around twenty years ago it was double that.

And most companies work for clients abroad,” reports Franco Nanni, President of the Roca Oil and Gas Association in Ravenna.

Italy imports gas from far away

But now the industry is drawing new hope.

In view of the increased energy prices, the Italian government wants to double domestic gas production.

The oil should stay in the ground, but not the natural gas, which Italy has in significant quantities.

From the 1950s onwards, production had increased almost continuously, peaking in 1994 at 21 billion cubic meters of gas a year.

Then it went downhill sharply to 3.3 billion cubic meters last year – the same level as in 1954. Italy is a big gas consumer.

Almost half of the electricity is produced from gas, and gas accounts for 43 percent of the total energy consumption.

As a result, Italians now have to import more than 90 percent of their natural gas from Russia, Norway, Libya, Algeria, Azerbaijan and Qatar.

The situation is somewhat absurd: the company's own mineral resources remain untouched, but the gas comes from far away, which requires considerably more energy and pollutes the climate due to the pumping pressure to be generated and the losses during transport. “We pay Putin and he uses it to make weapons. We pay Libya and they send us migrants in return,” laments Davide Tabarelli, president of the Bologna-based consultancy Nomisma Energia, who also teaches at the Engineering Faculty of the University of Bologna.

According to his estimate, Italy could produce around five times as much gas per year as it does today.

The deposits are found in the Adriatic Sea, off Sicily and in the Gulf of Taranto off the coast of the southern Italian region of Basilicata.

“Not we, but the Croats are drilling off our coast.

It's like having a glass with two straws, but drinking from it with only one,” says Tabarelli.

High energy prices have given the government a wake-up call.

For Italian companies, the energy bill has increased more than three and a half times to 37 billion euros since 2019, reports the industry association Confindustria.

Households are also complaining.

According to Italian calculations, the price increase in Italy was even lower than in Germany or Poland, for example.

For a few weeks now, Italy has been different than usual even as an exporter of gas to the north, for example to Germany.

Italian prices are currently a little lower than elsewhere because the winter has been mild so far, high reserves have been built up and a lot of gas is coming from Azerbaijan to Italy via a new gas pipeline through Turkey, Greece and Albania.

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