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Crude Trumps Olive Oil in Italy's Basilicata Region

Reserves in Basilicata could make Italy Europe’s No. 3 producer
An oil rig, operated by Eni, in Val d’Agri in Basilicata
An oil rig, operated by Eni, in Val d’Agri in BasilicataPhotograph by Alessandra Migliaccio/Bloomberg

When executives of Italian oil company Eni look out over the verdant hills of Val d’Agri, their primary focus isn’t on the ancient olive groves that cover the valley’s flanks but the billion-plus barrels of crude that lie beneath. Marco De Biasi will take the olive oil. “We need to stick to things that will still be with us once all the oil is pumped out,” says De Biasi, head of the regional branch of Legambiente, an Italian environmental group. “Sustainable development, real career paths for our children. Not exploitation, money, and then goodbye.”

The Val d’Agri lies in Basilicata, a mountainous, sparsely populated province in the arch of Italy’s boot that is home to Europe’s biggest onshore oil field. Eni and many in the government see the reserves there as a way to boost a battered economy that has shrunk for seven straight quarters, pushing the youth unemployment rate above 36 percent. “The potential of this field is huge,” says Ruggero Gheller, Eni’s Southern Italy chief, as he looks out from a mountain ridge where the company put in its most recent rig. “Having national production is important to contribute to our needs.”