In principle, mining titles are granted on the basis of an administrative proceeding whose main steps are the following:
- prospecting and exploration permits may be granted to persons or entities having the necessary technical and financial capabilities - additionally, applicants must commit to set up a suitable technical and administrative structure in Italy;
- the application for a prospection or exploration permit must be submitted to the Ministry of Economic Development along with the relevant work programme and other possible documents as the case may be;
- the Ministry, once the application is duly submitted, publishes said application in the Italian Gazette for Hydrocarbons (this step being necessary to open up competition among other possible applicants, who will have three months from the date of publication to submit their applications for the same geographic area);
- after three months from publication of the application, the Ministry must request its technical committee to release an approval. The committee shall issue its approval, if any, within 60 days of the date of the Ministry’s request;
- in most cases, an environmental impact assessment must be requested from the Ministry of Environment, which must issue its assessment within 90 days of the date it was notified. Approvals from other public bodies may be requested from time to time and depending on the area of the relevant application (namely, in cases where an application is made for the obtainment of a permit in Sicily, local authorities must release their approval; in cases where a request is submitted for an offshore permit, the Ministry of the Navy must release its approval); and
- once the approval of the Ministry of Environment has been released (as well as other relevant approvals), the Ministry of Economic Development may grant the permit to the applicant.
In 2010, following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the government implemented measures (Legislative Decree No. 128/2010) aimed at protecting the environment and ecosystem. Such measures prohibit gas offshore research and exploration within 12 miles of the boundaries of coastal and marine-protected areas. The Decree also bans offshore research and exploration within 12 nautical miles of the outer perimeter of the above-mentioned protected areas. However, on 22 June 2012, the government adopted a decree introducing new opportunities relating to the exploration, prospecting and production of hydrocarbons. In Decree No. 83/2012, it is provided that all the restrictive measures set out in Legislative Decree No. 128/2010 are inapplicable to those authorising procedures ‘pending on the date of entry into force of Legislative Decree No. 128/2010’.
As a consequence, many companies are now entitled to resubmit applications that had been previously rejected or that had been subject to a significant reduction of their original layout. The limit of ‘12 miles from the coastlines’, beyond which it will be possible to carry out exploration, prospecting and production activities relating to oil and gas, will be applicable only to new authorising procedures. This limit has also been extended to gas hydrocarbons. Recently, the Italian Financial Act (No. 208/2015), with the aim of fostering further investments in the hydrocarbons sector, qualified hydrocarbons prospecting, exploration and production as activities of ‘national interest’. This new qualification is expected to make the relevant authorising processes faster.
The maximum duration for this process should be 330 days from the date an application is filed with the Ministry of Economic Development. However, this term is, in most cases, extended, mainly owing to delays in public bodies issuing their approvals.
Further, in order to increase safety at sea in the sector of hydrocarbons, Legislative Decree 145/2015, implementing European Directive 2013/30/EU, lays down the requirements that every company shall comply with in order to operate in the field of oil and gas. Among other things, in the event of serious accidents, operators shall take all suitable measures to limit their consequences for human health and the environment. To verify the correct execution of the Law, an ad hoc committee composed of several experts from the hydrocarbons sector has been set up.
While the Ministry of Economic Development is competent on the issuance of authorisations and concessions, the ARERA is the independent body that regulates, controls and monitors the gas sector and market in Italy. The ARERA’s role and purpose is to protect the interests of users and consumers, promote competition and ensure efficient, cost-effective and profitable nationwide services with satisfactory quality levels. Its remit includes the definition of a reliable and transparent tariff system combining the economic aims of gas operators with the public interest as well as protecting the environment and promoting an efficient use of energy resources. The authority also provides an advisory and reporting service to the government and parliament, and issues opinions and recommendations on matters concerning the gas and electricity markets. Additionally, the ARERA plays an active role in creating a standardised system in the energy sector in compliance with EU legislation, and in implementing the integration of the Italian electricity and gas markets with the European market.
All ARERA decisions and regulations may be appealed, either to the ordinary administrative jurisdiction or by filing a complaint directly to the authority. In order to enforce the operator compliance with its decisions, the ARERA may rely on its sanctioning powers according to Italian Law No. 481 of 14 November 1995. More specifically, unless the relevant breach constitutes a crime, the ARERA may impose administrative fines of between €26,000 and €155 million; in the event of reiteration of violations, the ARERA has the right to suspend the activities of the operator for up to six months or propose the suspension or revocation of the concession to the Ministry of Economic Development.
With respect to the regulation of unconventional gas, considering that, to date, no shale gas or tight gas has been found in the Italian territory, no relevant regulation is in place in this regard.
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