UCL Press | 27 September 2023
On how the ECT fuels the fossil fuel economy: Rockhopper v Italy as a case study
by Alessandra Arcuri
The central thesis of this article is that the Energy Charter Treaty can be deployed to expand the fossil fuel industry’s rights and contextually counter democratic forces that animate the ecological transition. More specifically, the article shows the entanglement between the suppression of ecological democracy and the expansion of fossil rights. To offer a more granular understanding of how the Energy Charter Treaty empowers the fossil industry, this article zooms in on the case of Rockhopper v Italy. The case was launched in 2017 by the UK company Rockhopper against the Italian Republic because the latter denied a production concession for offshore oil drilling off the coast of Italy. After a long process of resistance from local communities, in 2016, the Italian government adopted a law of general applicability banning offshore drilling within 12 nautical miles of the coast. Drawing on political theory, this article conceptualises people’s successful forms of resistance to the oil extractivist project as ecological democracy. By unpacking the main facts underpinning this case and the legal reasoning in the award, the article shows how the Rockhopper award has bestowed new property rights on the fossil fuel investor while contextually compressing democratic spaces vital for the ecological transition.