More than ten years have passed since Snam launched a challenging project for the development of a new gas pipeline in North-Eastern Sicily, crossing an area of Nebrodi Park that is extremely important for its biodiversity. The relationship between development and environmental protection was one of its most important principles, with the aim of demonstrating how the redevelopment of land in a certain area can coexist with and be further supported by the modernization of infrastructures if conducted in accordance with an effective sustainability approach.
One of the most significant environmental issue related to Snam business activities is the temporary use of soil during the construction phase of its infrastructure.
In 2003, the main Snam-owned infrastructure crossing Sicily was composed of two parallel pipelines, both connected to the trans-Mediterranean network that brings gas from Algeria - the first built in 1979, the second in 1992. Ten years later it was decided to make the network more powerful by building a third line, with the objective of promoting the transport of a higher quantity of natural gas imported from North Africa, and to connect the already operating Enna-Bronte section with the MontalbanoElicona-Messina section. The two lines already traced a corridor and indicated a single possible way for a new natural gas pipeline. However the area where the new pipeline was due to pass had become in the meanwhile the Nebrodi Natural Park and therefore subjected to highly restrictive regulations.
The entire tracing - developed parallel to the existing natural gas pipelines, in mountainous regions and with poor road conditions, reaching the highest point in the Mount Colla district 1,600 metres above sea level - crossed 15 kilometres of the Nebrodi Natural Park and the area was characterised by a dissymmetry of slopes, lush vegetation and numerous wetlands. The environment was particularly fragile with thick forests valuable not only for their size, but also for the wide variety of woodland species found, represented in vegetation plans that reflect distribution based on the altitude, temperature and level of rain and snowfall.
The utmost importance of assessing the compatibility of the tracing with the tools to safeguard the park biodiversity and ecosystem services became clear, also taking into consideration alternative tracings, outside the protected area. In fact, the tracing of gas pipelines is a complex process based on the analysis of various alternatives with regard impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, safe transport and technical-financial feasibility, inevitably affecting Snam’s strategy and management processes.
The general idea is to be not only in perfect compliance with the prescriptions of the authority but to improve, where it is possible, the general situation both ensuring maximum environmental protection - for example with interventions of soil consolidations and of biodiversity conservation - and increasing the acceptability of the project by the communities interested.
Snam Rete Gas equipped itself with an operating unit specifically in charge of performing centralised activities for the conservation of biodiversity and ensuring the coordination and implementation of environmental impact assessments, with the help of highly skilled external personnel (including engineers, surveyors, geologists, agronomists, foresters and naturalists) who examined the entire area in order to identify the best routes possible. Then, based on the surveys conducted during the design phase, not only techniques to use for excavation were defined, but also the re-allocation of the land to fill, the consolidation operations of the soil and vegetation restoration. In particular, from a geological and hydrological point of view, Snam ensured the tracing of the gas pipelines would not interfere with existing equilibrium and that the gas pipeline itself was isolated from instability phenomena, erosion processes, landslides or slumps. Moreover, during the construction phase, advanced excavation and pipeline laying technologies were used, with the aim of interfering as little as possible with the surrounding environment.
The feasibility phase of the project involved, together with Snam, several other interested parties: the Park Authority, the Region and the four municipalities within the territory of the Park: Bronte, Randazzo, Floresta and MontalbanoElicona. During this preliminary phase, it was decided not to continue with the alternative tracings, which would have required the creation of new technological corridors with further waste of soil, environment and biodiversity, but to address the resources on the existing corridor by identifying solutions and methodologies able to determine a sustainable intervention and in harmony with the surrounding territory. This solution required a specific project, whose criteria were defined in the Memorandum of Intent (MoI) agreed in March 2004 between Snam and the Nebrodi Natural Park Authority.
This fruitful collaboration among Snam, the Park Authority, local institutions, research and university bodies (Botanical department of Palermo University) and environmental associations (Legambiente),also gave birth to an Environmental Observatory coordinated by the Director of Botanical Garden of Palermo with the aim to monitor the implementation of the MoI and to assess the projects related to the intervention planned by Snam within the protected area.
This total interaction model with the stakeholders has made it possible to create an important energy infrastructure to reinforce safety of procurement of the entire country, in compliance with the development requirements of the territories. The intervention methods were thereby defined in the protected area regarding the operating of existing plants, their maintenance and upgrading and actions were also scheduled to preserve and defend the landscape.
In 2009, construction work began and the entire operating process was characterised by criteria to safeguard the environment, reduce consumption of the land and preventive mitigation of any sources of criticality. For example, during the initial excavation phase, utmost attention was paid to removing and conserving the first 20 cm of topsoil, rich in nutritional substances for plants and highly important for their survival and during the subsequent environmental restoration works, the territory of the Nebrodi Natural Park, a surface area of approximately 32 hectares, was grassed and 18 hectares were reforested, with the planting of 22,700 indigenous plants.
Nowadays, the area is completely restored and the access routes to the park are fully functional. The final result is a positive experience from multiple points of view: environmental restoration, biodiversity conservation and implementation of a shared experience model with competencies among parties varying in nature and vocation.
This important experience, in perfect compliance with the sustainable approach of the company in the territory, also results in the organization of conferences on soil protection, environmental restoration and rehabilitation operations and in the publication of the “SentieriSostenibili” series, in collaboration with “24 ORE Cultura-GRUPPO 24 ORE”. These publications have the objective of promoting Snam’s commitment to safeguarding the environment, vegetation and morphological restoration, which over time have become real best practices, thereby developing positive experiences over the years between Snam and the Park Authorities.
The Series is also the way in which Snam intends to develop the wealth offered by the territory, according to a shared value model to create opportunities both for the company and the communities.
Three volumes of the series have been published to date: “SentieriSostenibili. Parco dei Nebrodi”, “Sentieri Sostenibili. Parco Prealpi Giulie” and “Sentieri Sostenibili. Parco dellaMajella”.