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TAP gas pipeline project in Puglia speeding up as new solutions to limit environmental impact are found

by Domenico Palmiotti

The planned TAP gas pipeline project in Puglia in southern Italy is speeding up after an initial construction site set up in May dealt with the removal of any remaining unexploded World War II bombs, and archaeological findings. The pipeline, projected to be up and running by 2020, will carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year to the coast of Melendugno (Lecce) from Azerbaijan through Greece, Albania and the Adriatic Sea.

The project has just taken two big steps forward: the first regards uprooting 231 olive trees in the area of the micro-tunnel (a small diameter tunnel sometimes used in pipelines to create less environmental disturbance); the second has to do with sampling, which will provide useful tips on the project of extending that micro-tunnel into the sea.

Heated conflict continues between the Italian state and the region of Puglia, whose governor, Michele Emiliano, is fighting the piece of the project that runs along the Melendugno marina and asking it to be moved to Brindisi (nearer the option of decarbonization at ENEL’s plant of Cerano and at the Ilva plant in Taranto, as well as the environmental restrictions (66 in all, 58 by the Environment Ministry and and 6 from the Ministry of Culture) that accompanied the approval of the gas pipeline in September of 2014.

The Environment Ministry, however, blocked the region’s resistance and, by managing to solve the olive tree debate, smoothed the path for work to move ahead.

In fact, nothing at all can be done in the area of the micro-tunnel, right next to the beach, if the olive trees aren't transplanted first. The move was planned last spring but delayed by the region's declining to grant approval and faced with the second-to-last letter from the Ministry, which insisted it had respected all requests, although the region denied that was the case.

But the Ministry replied by saying that Puglia had not provided “various technical, clearly detectable assessments.” Now they can start on the olive tree samplings aimed at verifying whether the Xylella is present or not. The analysis is being carried out by agricultural experts on 40-50 trees a day. The process is expected to take nearly one week. As the lab results on the status of the olive trees trickle in, replanting will proceed.

The plants will be brought to a warehouse area (already examined and found suitable) near the gas pipeline’s receiving terminal and transplanted to giant wooden vases where they will stay almost two years before being brought back to where they were originally.

In January, digging starts on the first shaft of the micro-tunnel. It will last a few months until fall 2017. Actual construction of the micro-tunnel will then be carried out by lowering into the pit the tunnel boring machine.

The micro-tunnel is expected to take three to five months to complete.
The micro tunnel, 1,453 meters long, will avoid the pipeline having to cut across the Mediterranean, the beach of Melendugno and the fishing grounds of the Adriatic. In fact, half of it will be underground and the other half under the sea floor. It will be three-feet wide in diameter with 36 inch diameter piping inside.