March 25, 2019 - In a world where all the advanced countries leave the use of fossil fuels, we open new sites, find a justification for exhausting non-renewable resources and activating the global greatest threat to marine biodiversity, writes the activist of the Montenegrin NGO Green Home, Natasa Kovacevic for respublika.edu.mk.
Montenegro has been proclaimed an Ecological State since the 1991 Constitution. Apart from being the first and only country in the world with such a constitutional commitment, our development was based on tourism and the slogan of "wild beauty" from which 23 percent of the gross domestic product is collected today. The figures looked promising as the latest report by the World Tourism Organization saying that by 2025, we could employ some 75,000 people in the tourism sector.
Unfortunately, and how often it is in small and closed transition countries, someone in the government got the idea of returning to this project of high risk after 70 years of unsuccessful oil and gas exploration. Thus, the executive and the Montenegrin legislature made a noteworthy move by signing different contracts in the same year. On the one hand, we signed agreements with oil magnates Eni - Novatek and Energean Oil and Gas for the opening of the first exploitation in the Montenegrin sea, and on the other - climate agreement that together with 200 other signatories, is obliged to phase out the use of fossil sources. The first contracts signed for 30 years and over, are likely to completely exhaust this fossil resource, regardless of the European path of reduced gas emissions to a minimum by 2050, as the Agreement has bound us.
Fossil Fuels Exploration and Exploitation: Damage to life, fishing and tourism
The situation today is such that research in the six oil and gas exploration blocks in Bar and Ulcinj submarine has been underway for 40 days, 7,000 echo strikes of the sea bottom every day, and this is just the beginning. The impact on the biodiversity of the sea and the ecosystem is significant but insufficiently explored, so we do not know what we lose at this moment. Damage to the living world, fishing and tourism are evident because only one strike, for research purposes, produces the noise of one jet airplane. Underwater detonations cause the utterance of the auditory organs of marine mammals (whales, dolphins, sea bear), damage of fish balancing organs, spraying of fish nests and organs in turtles and juvenile aquatic species, effecting a diameter of up to 60 km.
The most recent report by Ocean Care experts from Switzerland suggests that the fisheries and invertebrates have been affected by the decaying impacts of noise pollution. The fishermen lose as much as 50 percent of the commercial catch of fish by nets, and 70 percent of fish catches on the hook for a more extended period. Therefore, the first direct impacts are expected in the fishing industry, which depends on about 1000 people employed in fisheries, aquaculture, processing and catering, and a large number of local communities in the Montenegrin coast.
Unfortunately, the affected fisheries and tourist communities through formal processes of public hearings have not received the information they are expected to experience regarding the risks of pollution of the sea, the impact on tourism and fisheries as the primary activity they are generating but also on the future nutrition, health, and quality of life. In the Environmental Impact Study, it is stated that seismic research and test drilling result in the rise of sediments from the bottom, the release of harmful and radioactive material from the thick layers and technological additives accumulating in fish and other species, therefore harmful to human health when consumed.
However, the greatest dangers come from the exploitation process, where accidents such as those in high standardised Norway in 1977 when 80000 barrels of oil flooded, completely cover our little sea. It would take half an hour to get to the shore, only 3 to 10km away. Even during regular operations, oil leaks are on average 1-4 times a year, while a particular risk is the overload and transport of oil and gas tankers, pipelines at the bottom of the sea, gas explosions on platforms, etc. Researches increase the risk of induced earthquakes in the already seismologically sensitive area of Montenegro, and the first research will be done in the most vulnerable seismic zone of the Ulcinj submarine (9 degrees).
Fossil Fuels Exploration and Exploitation: Dissolving conscious citizens
Montenegro has neither human capacities nor equipment to monitor and control fossil fuels operations, but we are left to the investor's will. Thus, for example, ENI's nursing firm AGIP recorded as many as 471 hazards related to the oil spill in 2013, while six ENI workers in the region of Basilicata, Italy, who were accused of decommissioning industrial waste with the platform, were arrested in the previous year. This year, 15 senior officials in Italy are charged with corruptive actions in Nigeria. We are talking about a company that holds the most critical sites in Third World countries such as Mozambique, Ghana, Congo, and Nigeria. The latest oil spill in Nigeria has been struck by the local population, which depends on fishing, agriculture, and tourism. Investor statements with such a biography and the clauses of the "damages insurance, maximum security and meeting the strictest international standards" provisions are not a big consolation to ordinary citizens. The results of the standards we are offering can be seen on the Niger Delta, which extends extensively, while the government of Nigeria estimates that the partial remediation of the area requires $1 billion and 30 years, and the ENI company does not have an adequate response or reaction to the emerging situation.
Rather than the scientifically researched consequences of oil exploration and construction of oil plants, and in particular their impact on sustainability and development, and concerning current development strategies and international obligations, confused fishers and citizens are faced with public speeches by examples from Greece and the dolphin floating around Tasos. No mention of the case of Delta Nigeria, the Mexican Gulf and other areas that have been devastated forever by oil spills from the platform and the pipeline where the quality of life of citizens is on a low level. No example of an oil spill caused by exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels, particularly in areas subject to earthquakes, could not be heard during public hearings. No cross-border impacts are spoken. Citizens' consciousness is continually flourished through a lump-sum example of Greek oil exploitation not pointing the fact that the length of the Greek coast is over 13600km of open sea compared to our 297km, where all our fishermen's farms, tourist facilities, natural goods, mariculture, underwater archaeological sites, waterways, etc.
The stone's age does not come to pass.
Not only Montenegrin citizens but all the Adriatic countries, there is no guarantee that oil spills, the destruction of marine biodiversity and the coast will not occur. Montenegro has no equipment and human resources and is unable to control tankers, oil pipelines, converter plants, platforms, crude oil treatment facilities, etc. It is unclear how it intends to monitor the work of international oil companies such as ENI, which counts over 400 oil spills annually, and in a coastal area highly associated with earthquakes.
In a world where all the advanced countries leave the use of fossil fuels, we open new sites, find a justification for exhausting non-renewable resources and activating the global greatest threat to marine biodiversity. So in Montenegro, the stone age never passes, and the green state - it is undoubtedly going in the past.
We have been fighting with 40 organisations in the network One Adriatic from Croatia, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Slovenia for four years for the introduction of a moratorium on exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels from the Adriatic Sea. We will not give up, believing that the clean environment is the heritage of the Adriatic countries that guarantee good quality of life for citizens. Our mission is to inform the public of the negative impacts of these activities and continue and mobilise as many people as possible, experts, European and world institutions in the struggle for the azure blue colour of the Adriatic without oil platforms.
Text by Natasa Kovacevic, NGO Green Home, published at respublika.edu.mk