It was the blackest day — black as oil — for the Italian coastal region of Abruzzo. In a resounding slap that wasn’t altogether unexpected, the Ministry of Economic Development on Monday granted a definitive pathway for drilling just a few miles from the bright beaches of Chieti Province.

The ministry approved a controversial oil rig and floating refinery in an Adriatic Sea oil field, called Ombrina Mare, at a meeting in Rome, as angry protesters gathered outside waiving “no oil” banners.

“We were met with absolute arrogance,” thundered the vice president of Abruzzo, Giovanni Lolli, as he left the ministry. “They would not listen to reason. Our committee’s request for postponement was rejected. What happened here is disgraceful. [The minister] would not consider two recent regional laws that make Ombrina off limits — illegal. He should have taken note of the irregularities and waited for further investigation. Instead, he said he doesn’t agree and closed the matter.”

The Italian Constitutional Court is set to rule in January and February on the admissibility of anti-drilling referendums in 10 regions that seek to decentralization decisions about energy. One would establish the Trabocchi Coast as a marine park and another would limit exploration and production of hydrocarbons within 12 nautical miles of shore.

“We’ll defend our case with an appeal to the Regional Administrative Tribunal,” Lolli said. “We will defend ourselves by all means because this project not only affects the environment but also the GDP. We are also protecting our economy.”

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The decision came just hours after the World Meteorological Organization issued a stern warning: “The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached yet another new record high in 2014, continuing a relentless rise which is fueling climate change and will make the planet more dangerous and inhospitable for future generations.”

On Friday, Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico coast, because it would “significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combating climate change.” And Pope Francis has even joined the chorus, issuing an encyclical to care for creation.

The anti-drilling group “No Ombrina” called the decision “a real injustice” but insisted that while it had lost an important battle, the war was just beginning, vowing: “We will overturn this result.”

“The ministry decreed that Abruzzo will host wells and a floating refinery for decades, burying the tourism economy of the beautiful Trabocchi Coast and the quality of agriculture,” said Alessandro Lanci and Augusto De Sanctis, of No Ombrina. “Evidently, for the Renzi government, the interests of multinationals are ‘strategic,’ but those of the community are not.”

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has come under fire recently for his position on dirty energy.

During a visit to L’Aquila, he had to flee a mob of protesters under protective escort, and he passed up an appearance at a sporting festival in Bari, apparently to avoid the ire of regional citizens who feel ignored and increasingly exploited.

As the anti-oil movement widens throughout the country, it’s becoming increasingly diverse, including priests, ecological associations and union across various parties. This was highlighted at a national gathering in Rome recently, where many called for an energy referendum. The problem is drumming up enough interest to win a vote. Some have proposed holding it during regional and municipal elections to increase the turnout.

“It will not be easy, but we can do it if everyone will give us their support,” said Enzo Di Salvatore, a constitutional professor and organizer of the anti-oil movement.

20 desk1 ombrina Costa trabocchi - Foto Serena Giannico
A typical fishing point in the Adriatic Sea in Abruzzo, called “Trabocco” – photo Serena Giannico

–> Originally published in Italian at il manifesto on Nov. 10 2015