Adriatic drilling: CASA replies to oil agency boss Barbara Doric

Total Croatia News

With the threat to Croatian tourism posed by proposed oil and gas drilling in the Adriatic gathering international interest, Il was contacted by environmental group CASA (Clean Adriatic Sea Alliance) about the possibility of responding to comments made in a recent interview I did on Digital Journal with Barbara Doric, President of the management board of the Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency. The interview sparked plenty of online discussion in Croatia, and CASA’s response below is presented in full:


The real problem with exploration and exploitation drilling in the Adriatic isn’t that the disruption of the seabed will forever alter the Adriatic’s ubiquitous translucency offered in shades of turquoise, azure, cobalt and emerald to an impenetrable miasma. Nor is it, as horrible as the very real damage caused from the drilling muds laced with toxic chemicals and heavy metals mixing with the shallowness of the Adriatic with its often turbulent character – those 210 kph Bura winds last week being evidence – and how such poisons would easily mix into the fragile marine ecosystems and the food chain, it’s not that either. It also not ‘just’ the potential of an epic Deepwater Horizon (Gulf of Mexico) oil spill, though 250 litres from the recent oil spill in New Zealand realised a drift of more than 10km and the Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency has limited drilling platforms to 6 km from any Dalmatian island. It isn’t that with climate change predictions sea levels will rise some 65 metres (btw, the average overall height of a Dalmatian Island is 300 metres above sea level, with most of the populations of the 60 inhabited islands actually being ‘at’ sea level). No, the real problem is that the petrochemical industry in enticing members of Croatia’s government with untold riches that will solve all of Croatia’s economic problems has created the largest falsehood of this century for Croatia. Doric (#7) “If an accident happens in a neighboring country our part of the Adriatic will suffer as well. Do we really want to share the risk with the rest of the countries on the Adriatic without gaining any benefits for us?”.

Instead of honouring a history of Croatian innovation, and fostering, supporting, encouraging and investing HEAVILY in clean technologies which would not only shift the paradigm from hydrocarbons and the insidious and pervasive swath of destruction left in the extraction and use of fossil fuels but create a new, harmonious with nature, economy. John Irving of @ClimateNow, commenting on a recent article about divesting of investment in fossil fuel companies in the UK’s The Guardian wrote: “… countries have been invaded and wars have been waged, repressive human-rights abusing authoritarian regimes have been propped up or installed in the name of protecting or securing this strategic asset (oil) and the wealth derived from it has largely fallen into the hands of a small number of elites. Last September the Rockefeller heirs to the Standard Oil fortune pledged to divest of all fossil fuel investments ahead of the UN Climate Change Summit. To quote (in English translation) Oliver Dragojevic “who can even think of investment in oil wells in the Adriatic?”

Ms. Doric says she represents the Government (those of you reading this ‘we are the Government’), she has also said she would prohibit a referendum over drilling if she was asked, while also stating that she doesn’t make decisions; it needs to be asked who then is responsible for decision making related to drilling in the Adriatic. Why then she is the CEO of the hastily established Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency? What, exactly, is her role? is Ms. Doric the governments’ spokesperson, or dogsbody? Either way the CHA and by extension the Croatian government clings to the status quo mired in the past. If she started to develop this project, as her various public statements would indicate, in the days she was in CEI then she is also directly responsible for Croatia not actively pursuing EU funds for sustainable energy. She has been quoted as saying in Zadar a few weeks back that there was no future for solar energy in Croatia. How questionable hydrocarbon exploitation could be more valuable than such given that more than 315 days of sunlight are enjoyed in Croatia each year and factoring in global climate change is a mystery. The pan-Adriatic region could easily become an incubator collectively for the green economy and establish a new global standard but this takes visionary leadership something clearly lacking at every level of this proposed endeavor.

Croatia, consistently given the highest marks for its pristine natural environment by the Institute for Tourism, is already experiencing a backlash from Barbara Doric’s very elegantly formulated untruth, that tourism will not experience any negative impact from the oil industry drilling in the area. At Europe’s largest tourism trade fair last week – ITC in Berlin – staff at the Croatian Tourism Agency booth as well as at the Croatian Tourist Board offices in Frankfurt and Ljubljana have fielded repeated queries about how Croatia will maintain its clean waters with oil drilling platforms doing exploration and the constant assault of air guns doing soundings to identify pockets of hydrocarbons disturbing their holidays.

The fact that some platforms already exist in the Northern Adriatic coast is (sadly) true; those platforms are operated by the once national company INA. But it is also true that the employees manning these platforms are drilling at home and, as a result, they hold a nearly sacred trust to function at the highest standards because these waters are where their own families live, play and swim in stark contrast to the experiences of other sovereign nations where drilling and oil exploitation has been done by foreign companies and foreign workers. What’s more the existing platforms are located at a distance of 30 km or more from any aspect of the Croatian coast and its islands. The CHA/Ministry of Economy proposal would have the oil industry establish platforms not only within UNESCO protected and Croatian national parks, but a mere 6 km from islands in the Dalmatian archipelago, a renowned tourist destination, and 10 km from the Croatian mainland.

Ms. Doric said: (#5) “Preparing a Strategic Study (…) was done in accordance to the Croatian regulatory framework and EU directives. Why there is such lack of understanding I really don’t know (…)” EU directives define an Environmental Study as strategic only if it a) foresees worst case scenario and b) foresees a cumulative Environmental Impact. In both cases the copy/paste Strategic Study as presented by CHA, and ridiculed by many top-level scientists, has FAILED to frame these two critical points and subsequently has not offered solution in response to various Articles of Croatian law. The Public Tender for issuing licenses for exploration and production of hydrocarbons in the Adriatic, the Framework Plan and Program, the alleged SEA process with its patent lack of true independent experts to create a quality Strategic Study instead of glossy oil industry drilling brochure type of ‘study’, were all put forth in an arguable rush, and certainly with a lack of the repeatedly professed transparency. Decisions for exploration and production of hydrocarbons were also granted in a closed session of the Government, without any prior public discussion or thematic sessions in Parliament. The recently proposed referendum, a back-peddling political move by Prime Minister Zoran Milanović to assuage the clamour for a return to democracy, was recently dismissed outright by Croatia’s Minister of Economy Ivan Vrdoljak who said that the request for a referendum on oil pointless, asserting that by the end of May Croatia will sign a contract for oil and gas from one of the companies which have submitted against the request for tender. Contrary to Ms. Doric’s words, all the licenses have been granted in advance, for 5 years of exploration, and 25 years of exploitation/production of hydrocarbons. The very fact that the whole process is taking place within a single ministry and the hurriedly established Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency gives room for doubt around corruption and the potentially damaging contracts about to be signed. While Ms. Doric has made continual claims that they met all the EU directives there is actual evidence to the contrary that several of these Directives were violated. CASA has translated Davor Skrlec’s post to show the various Directives not abided by throughout the course of action by the Croatian government and its agencies. According to both the SEA and EIA EU Directives these are not just binding procedures but specifically outline that national authorities must engage participation by the public and publish its comments, especially those that come from eminent, independent experts and scientists. A month has passed since the closing of the Public Comment Period and Croatians still await the not-yet-adopted SEA. Is it relevant or even true that according to Ms. Doric that up until last year “Croatia didn’t have any restriction for oil/gas drilling”? What is known is that after implementing new laws drilling interests now lay siege to and present the single largest threat to the Adriatic in its entire history.

Which leads us to the governments of both Italy and Slovenia and their recent use of diplomatic channels to request of the Croatian government to implement procedures for a cross-border environmental impact assessment, recalling Directive 85/377/CEE of the Espoo (EIA) Convention which, despite claims of cooperation and transparency by the Barbara Doric as head of the CHA and Minister of Economy Ivan Vrdoljak throughout this “long term strategic plan of Croatia’s” there has been so much secrecy that even Croatia’s closest neighbours have been kept in the dark. The Croatian government has even been warned by EC DG Environment (EU Commission) for its initial refusal of providing the SEA document to Italian Ministry of Environment and Protection of Land and Sea, and finally forced it to send the SEA in order to participate in cross-border consultation process with Italy.

It seems a collectively convenient memory lapse within the CHA and the Ministry of Economy that Croatia is bound in being a signatory to the Bern Convention. A binding international legal instrument, signed by 50 countries and the European Union, the Bern Convention commits each party to promoting national conservation policies, considering the impact of planning and development on the natural environment, promoting education and information on conservation, and coordinating research. Croatia is also a member of IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and as such is bound by its conventions to “help(s) the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges”. Further, in direct violation of Article 52 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (protecting mineral resources as owned by the Croatian people) and Article 41 of Croatian law, (on exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons, that says all geological, geophysical, geochemical, ecological and other data as well as data resulting from the analysis of such data, data about hydrocarbon reserves, composition and samples […] during the term of the license and the signed contract are the exclusive property of the Republic of Croatia) have bypassed the Croatian Mining Act giving special approval to the company Spectrum Geo Limited (UK) to uniformly, unconstitutionally and illegally, scour the Adriatic. There was no tender issued for public competition, no SEA before this contract, and the questionable legitimacy and details of the contract with Spectrum Geo remain secreted away from public scrutiny, regardless Spectrum was allowed to perform some kind of seismic survey (2D or perhaps even 3D seismic) on the whole area of Croatian Adriatic. To this date any data from of actual environmental impact after the seismic study also remains secret – the Ministry of Environment and Nature Protection transfers the responsibility to Ministry of Science, Education and Sport that ordered the seismic survey, while the second Ministry claims it is not responsible for environmental impacts. So although no agency is responsible explicably 14 dead dolphins are found near the Istrian coast, more than 200 dead sea turtles have wash up on Italian beaches, and the blue sharks have completely disappeared all presumably from seismic testing.

Since at least the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference problem solving professionals have warned the rest of us of “massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and well-being depend” with the continued use of fossil fuels. Research conducted by the University of Florida with a team from the University of Bologna including Alessandro Amorosi and Daniele Scarponi have determined that despite the ecosystem of the Adriatic Sea’s ability to withstand natural climatic changes for 125,000 years that mankind’s impact over the last half century has profoundly, and negatively, impacted the Adriatic’s ‘historically stable biodiversity’. From the same article in Huff Post Italy, Michal Kowalewski, paleontologist and coordinator of this research expressed that the sea has been able to exist unscathed through periods of great glaciation and drought, but it is in serious danger of succumbing to the cruel actions of an unconscious man. The Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency references as “highest environmental standards” that would make the Croatian Adriatic drilling superior in safety compared to any other global drilling standard are a farce.  There continue to be accidents around the world, on a regular basis, even with contingencies in place.  To say that because a major accident has not yet happened in the Adriatic, therefore drilling is safe, is simply public relations spin. What’s worse is Croatia’s economic crisis and corruption will not end with drilling for hydrocarbons, if anything the chances for wide scale corruption is greater given the sheer volume of money involved.

Ms. Doric’s is correct (#9), “You are again setting your thesis completely wrong. The Agency’s task is to maximize the benefit for the Croatian citizens from the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons” both in her role and that of the Croation Hydrocarbon Agency; the mandate of CHA is specifically charged with the exploitation of hydrocarbons. From the perspective of the CHA this exploitation must come regardless of seismic assessment (which has never been offered to the public – yet General Tito recognised the inherent risks and abandoned the idea of exploitation altogether) and prevailing weather conditions (well documented winds and waves that stretch back to the Roman Chroniclers) which would have disproportionate risk and any negative impact on tourism, the environment, the use of the Adriatic in video and film production, fisheries industry revenues both domestically and for export, on the cultural heritage which lies beneath the surface or exists on the lands adjacent to on surrounded by the Adriatic. With the hydrocarbon industry, just as with CHA, there is zero incentive to embrace the “highest standards” when they are not demanded to do so. There have been four oil train derailments in four weeks in the United States and Canada, more than fifty such accidents since 2005, the industry that gains the most from the transportation of hydrocarbons will never willingly commit to an investment in infrastructure for the safe transit of these hazardous materials – this, regardless of location, must be negotiated in advance and actively enforced. The Croatian people do not have an advocate demanding strictest safety standards and transparency; rather they have the CHA which is in partnership with the industry only to exploit petrochemicals. Apathy of the general public a year ago should not be construed as consent especially given the veil of secrecy surrounding the planning of both the proposed drilling as well as the pipeline running the length of the Adriatic from Albania to Italy – known as the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline; the general public need to be pulled from their football matches and soap operas to understand the very fabric of their lives is about to be rent asunder.

As climate realists we maintain that a carefully constructed misinformation campaign has been deployed to obfuscate, and purposefully mislead. In due course the battle for the protection of the Adriatic will be fought in international and domestic courts of law that will be lengthy and expensive, monies far better spent cultivating innovation in sustainable energies for the pan-Adriatic populations who would so greatly benefit from job creation and revenues.

Total Split has sent the CASA response to the office of CHA president Barbara Doric, inviting her to comment.



Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment