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article imageOp-Ed: Adriatic oil and gas drilling: Tourism suicide for Croatia?

By Paul Bradbury     May 13, 2014 in Environment
Milna - Could the jewel of Croatian tourism, the Adriatic Sea, be under threat from yet more natural riches below its pristine waters?
With more than 1,000 islands and 1,700 kilometres of coastline washed by the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is once more prepared for a bumper tourist season, which is heavily based on its natural treasures of guaranteed sunshine, stunning beaches and some of the cleanest water for swimming in the world.
With some 7 billion euro of tourism revenue last year according to the Financial Times, Croatia's tourism is heavily based on its sun and sea offer, and tourists have flocked back to the country after the recent conflict after a hugely successful marketing campaign under the slogan The Mediterranean as It Once Was.
But could the main thrust of Croatia's tourism offer, the glistening and unspoilt Adriatic, be under threat? As previously reported on Digital Journal, potential oil and gas reserves underneath the blue Croatian coastal waters could provide economic competition with the tourism potential of the Adriatic if government plans go ahead.
"We expect the first exploration work to start at the beginning of next year and to take up to five years, depending on the area," said Ivan Vrdoljak, Minister of the Economy on February 24, 2014.
The Adriatic - natural treasures in the water and under the seabed  but can the two coexist?
The Adriatic - natural treasures in the water and under the seabed, but can the two coexist?
Makarska Post/Ocean Care
Vrdoljak expects Croatian gas production to be in the region of 9 billion cubic metres, or three times annual national consumption.
Regional daily Slobodna Dalmacija, citing unofficial sources, has named the southern part of the country's coast on the boarder with Montenegro and the tourist island of Brac as two of the most promising sources of natural wealth under the Adriatic, and carried a story earlier this year under the headline "There is oil near Brac and platforms will arrive in January 2015."
The pretty Dalmatian resort of Milna on Brac  evacuated in 1979  after some exploratory drilling rel...
The pretty Dalmatian resort of Milna on Brac, evacuated in 1979, after some exploratory drilling released poisonous gas.
Croatia National Tourist Board
As The Sunday Times reported last year, Norwegian seismic-imaging company Spectrum estimates that Croatia's oil reserves along could be up to 3 billion barrels, which would satisfy the country's energy needs for more than a century.
Writing for the Financial Times last week, Andrew MacDowell quotes Barbara Doric, President of the Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency, on the Norwegian claims:
“It is hard to say before actual drilling is done,” she says. “Actually what Spectrum was saying is that there is high prospectivity of the geological data and they have identified multiple potential leads which may yield hydrocarbons once further seismic [studies], drilling and appraisal have taken place.”
With memories of the disaster caused by, among others, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the prospect of oil and gas exploration in the clean seas of the Adriatic has alarmed environmentalists, and they are unlikely to be reassured by Doric's claims that “one of the basic tender requirements was adherence to the highest environmental standards” and that block boundaries are located at least 10 km from the mainland and 6 km from islands. She points out that none of Croatia’s existing drilling spots or platforms have affected tourism.
The unspoilt view of the island of Brac from Biokovo on the mainland. On a clear day  one can see as...
The unspoilt view of the island of Brac from Biokovo on the mainland. On a clear day, one can see as far as Italy.
@Romulic and Stojcic
The prospect of drilling rigs on the Adriatic would not only create an eyesore from elevated views from the mainland, where Italy can be seen on a clear day, but the guarantee of the highest environmental standards is also of little comfort. Although not yet reported internationally, exploratory drilling off the island of Brac — a key tourist island, whose world-famous stone was used in the construction of The White House in Washington — in 1979, led to the evacuation of residents from the town of Milna, after poisonous hydrogen sulphide was released, which resulted in the residents of Milna, a popular and picturesque sailing destination, being evacuated to the hotels of Supetar on the northern coast of Brac. Read more about an eyewitness account of the polluting of the clear Dalmatian air 35 years ago here (in Croatian).
This Digital Journalist understands from a conversation with an official that the seabed off Brac is very much on the exploration radar, and that one drilling site could be as close as just 1 kilometre from Milna, although it should be stressed that there is no official confirmation of this. As the report above explains, the discovery of hydrogen sulphide is a good indicator of the existence of oil reserves.
Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico - a similar disaster in the Adriatic could devastate tourism...
Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico - a similar disaster in the Adriatic could devastate tourism on Croatia's coast.
The lack of public outcry at the proposed drilling, which could potentially affect the jewel of the country's tourism, is in stark contrast to the recent referendum on the definition of marriage, which was widely seen as a referendum on gay marriage and was triggered after the Catholic Church and its supporters mustered some 700,000 signatures (or 20 percent of the electorate) on the issue to force the referendum.
There are, however, some calls to action, with leading regional daily Slobodna Dalmacija exhorting Dalmatians to wake up to the threat, while a Facebook group, Clean Adriatic Sea Alliance, had this to say when contacted by Digital Journal:
Zlatni Rat on Brac is Croatia s most iconic beach
Zlatni Rat on Brac is Croatia's most iconic beach
"We find that 95% of Croatians we encounter are against drilling in the Adriatic Sea, but more action is needed from local communities. The campaigns in history that had success protecting communities and the environment, from Big Oil companies, all had one thing in common. They all had the unified support of the local people.
Citizens, local leaders, and businesses, all have the ability to stop these actions. We hope to facilitate an organized effort by providing our website
as a place for people to show their support to protect the Croatian Adriatic Sea. We encourage people from all over Croatia, from Istria to Dubrovnik, to make videos, photos, text, and art as a way to protest and we will post it on our website. Encourage your neighbors to take action in some way, and we hope enough people sign our petition to make our voices heard."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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