Sicily valley beats gas wells

ROME (Reuters) – In a victory for environmentalists and local residents, a Franco-American oil and gas company has backed down over plans to dig wells in a Sicilian valley famed for its baroque churches and palaces. Texas-based Panther Eureka announced it would avoid drilling in the Noto Valley, in the southern part of the Italian island, after protesters led by writer Andrea Camilleri launched a campaign to protect the area’s cultural heritage. The eight cities and towns in the Noto Valley are considered jewels of baroque architecture. The area was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2002. Panther Eureka said it had decided to cut the wells planned in the region by 2010 to eight from 21 and it would avoid the Val di Noto. The company, which won authorization to look for oil and gas in Sicily in 1994, said its wells would not have damaged any heritage sites but it had decided to scale back its plans to avoid controversy. «It’s a victory for good sense, a return to reason,» said Camilleri, Italy’s most successful living writer and a born-and-bred Sicilian.

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