Italy’s liquefied natural gas ship sails into a storm of protest

Italy’s liquefied natural gas ship sails into a storm of protest

A ship that will help Italy reduce its reliance on Russian energy sailed into a storm of protest on Sunday, with demonstrators claiming it poses a risk to the environment and a threat to tourism revenues.

In common with many European countries, Italy’s demand for gas had been met by supplies from Russia through transcontinental pipelines until last year’s invasion of Ukraine.

The country has turned instead to liquefied natural gas, which is shipped around the world before being converted back into gas at ports and fed into national pipelines.

The ship which arrived at Piombino, the Golar Tundra is a floating storage and regasification unit, designed to convert the liquid fuel into gas.

Stefano Venier, chief executive of Italian gas group Snam, which bought the ship last June said earlier this week it would be operational from May.

But protestors who gathered when the ship arrived are angry that it is being moored in their area.

Protestor Francesca Marino, Piombino Italy, March 20, 2023AFP

Francesca Marino, of Committee La Piazza, told AFP the ship is dangerous and it will be moored too close to homes. She said there are more stringent safety rules in other parts of the country.

“So it means that we have first-class citizens and second-class citizens,” she said.

The project is key to Italy’s plan to reduce its reliance on Russian gas following the invasion of Ukraine, which has also seen it sign new deals with partners such as Algeria and Libya.

Former energy minister Roberto Cingolani said last year it was “essential for national security”.

The location was chosen so gas can easily be transported to Italy’s heavily industrialised north, although the government says it is temporary, and that after three years it will move.

But there have been months of local protests against the project, and a small march was staged Sunday ahead of the vessel’s late-night arrival from Singapore.

Opponents say it will pose health and safety risks for those travelling between the port city of Piombino and the island of Elba, a popular holiday destination.

Environmental groups have also warned the project will slow down Italy’s transition to renewable energy.

The Golar Tundra can store 170,000 cubic metres of LNG and has an annual regasification capacity of five billion cubic metres, according to Snam.

“Five billion cubic metres of gas allows us to reach levels of self-sufficiency that allow families to think about lower bills,” said Tuscany President Eugenio Giani at the port.

Snam said last summer the unit could contribute around 6.5% of Italy’s needs, bringing national regasification capacity to over 25% of demand.

Russia provided around 40% of Italy’s gas in 2021 but this fell to 16% last year, officials said.


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