Italy PM non-committal after discussing TAP pipeline dispute with mayor

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Thursday met the mayor at the center of a dispute threatening to delay work on the 4.5 billion euro Trans Adriatic Pipeline but made no commitment about changing the project.

FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte holds a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Conte said he met Marco Poti, mayor of Melendugno, a seaside resort on Italy’s heel where the TAP pipeline will land, together with a team of legal and technical experts to discuss what he called “critical aspects” of the pipeline.

“I assured them the government will conduct an in-depth assessment of the whole dossier,” Conte said after the meeting, adding however that legal commitments had already been made by the previous center-left administration.

Conte also clarified to Poti that diversifying Italy’s energy supplies remains a “strategic” goal, a government source said.

Grassroots opposition to the project has revolved mainly around alleged environment risks and the fear the pipeline could discourage tourism.

The mayor, who has argued that the tourism-oriented area he represents is totally unsuitable as the landing point of the pipeline, said Conte had told him the project could be scrapped if the government finds any procedural irregularities.

He said he was pleased to note a “different political climate, compared with the previous government”.

TAP, the last leg of the $40 billion Southern Gas Corridor that will bring Azeri gas to Italy, is due to start pumping gas in 2020 but the local opposition has raised concern that work at the Italian end may not be completed in time.

The pipeline is viewed as strategic by the European Union as it moves to wean itself off its dependency on Russian gas.

In July, Italian President Sergio Mattarella confirmed Italy was committed to TAP.

At a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, Conte said he was aware of the strategic nature of the pipeline and would visit the local community and mayor to seek a solution.

The Trump administration is keen to see the pipeline completed on time.

TAP shareholders are BP, Socar, Snam, Fluxys, Enagas and Axpo.

Reporting by Giancarlo Navach and Gavin Jones, Writing by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Mark Heinrich