This broke region will use oil cash to help poor

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Italy's southern region of Basilicata is set to launch an oil-funded public works sheme.Photo: Cowboybeebop/Flickr
13:13 CET+01:00
Italy's cash-strapped southern region of Basilicata is set to launch a public works scheme funded by oil profits to try and get people back to work.

The move will see up to 8,000 unemployed or under-employed citizens join oil-financed programmes seeking to guarantee a minimum level of income to the region's poorest families.

The scheme will be entirely financed by a three percent compensation charge which the Italian energy giant Enel pays the region in order to drill the area's oil reserves, which are the largest in continental Europe.

It gets underway in February and will see people from across the region working on public works projects for their local council in exchange for €400-€550 a month, depending on their current level of income and needs.

“It's not just menial tasks like cleaning the streets and tidying our parks and gardens,” Nino Grasso, spokesperson for the president of Basilicata told The Local.

“We have a number of cultural works that are understaffed and underfunded which will no doubt benefit. If an archaeologist needs 10 people to help on a dig, the local council can send people signed up to the programme. If a museum is understaffed they will be able to find someone too.

"In addition to being given work, people will also be offered free training to try and help them permanently re-enter the job market."

But Grasso rejected the suggestion that the new €40 million-a-year scheme was a convenient way for local councils to save money on labour costs.

“In the past we used our oil profits to provide each car-owning citizen in Basilicata with a card that helped them save around €150 a year on their petrol costs. But that idea didn't solve anyone's problems and this is a much better use of our money.”

In spite of such great wealth lying deep beneath the ground, Basilicata has one of the highest rates of unemployment and one of the lowest GDP per capita figures in Italy, standing at just €19,100.

Compared with oil-poor regions in the centre-north, where average GDP levels hover around €30,000, the potential for oil revenue to boost the stricken economy of the region is huge.

But economic benefits come at an environmental cost, as some opposition groups see the scheme as a way to buy residents' favour in exchange for new drilling projects.

In the past, citizens of Basilicata have been vocal in their opposition to opening new wells and have accused the government of allowing oil companies to make too much profit, while creating too much damage.

Protests have been so heated that the regional government recently blocked controversial plans to open offshore drilling platforms near the region's pristine coastline.

"Oil extraction doesn't bring any real economic benefits to the region," Alessandro Ferri, from Basilicata unit of the environmental group Lega Ambiente, told The Local.

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"After the recent Paris climate change conference, we should really be looking at how we can exit from petroleum-based energy supplies.”  

Yet, while the region has opposed plans to exploit offshore resources, leaders remain eager to tap new fields under Basilicata's rugged and mountainous countryside.

“We have an agreement with Enel which we signed in 1998, and again in 2006, declaring that the sustainable limit for extraction is 154,000 barrels a day,” Grasso added.

But Ferri said this target was beyond the sustainable limit.

“We already extract 80,000 barrels a day and it's more than we can take. Just the other day we had people in in Viggiano, a town in central Basilicata, reporting health problems because the town is being engulfed in smoke from a nearby drilling project.”

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