STA, 9 September 2020 - The UK-based company Ascent Resources has formally begun procedures to start an investor dispute against Slovenia at international arbitration for taking measures to protect its groundwater from fracking, the NGO Friends of the Earth has announced.
On its website, the NGO released a letter addressed to Prime Minister Janez Janša, Foreign Minister Anže Logar and Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak on 23 July by the London law firm Enyo Law, which says it represents Ascent.
In the letter Ascent formally notifies the existence of the dispute, while also expressing willingness for negotiation in "hope that an amicable solution can be found to the present dispute".
The letter alleges actions by Slovenia in breach of its obligations under the UK-Slovenia bilateral investment treaty and the Energy Charter Treaty, which it alleges caused considerable harm to the investors' investments in Slovenia.
They say the investors have invested sums in excess of EUR 50 million in the development of the Petišovci oil and gas field.
Enyo Law alleges that the Environment Agency (ARSO) has missed deadlines in issuing its decision on the application for a screening assessment, and that its decision that an environmental impact assessment was required was at odds with with opinions issued by other Slovenian government authorities and institutions.
"The ARSO decision was not based on the recommendations of Slovenia's own experts and, furthermore, it contradicted the opinions they gave. It is therefore manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable," reads the letter.
The law firm also says that while the procedure at ARSO was ongoing, the Slovenian minister of the environment and spatial planning repeatedly made public statements portraying Ascent and the Petišovci project in a negative light, and that leaks were made by ARSO to the press.
The letter says that this "further demonstrates that ARSO was biased against the investor and that the ARSO decision was politically motivated".
With the letter, investors formally consent to submit their investment dispute with Slovenia to international arbitration, which is considered a formal notification of the existence of the dispute.
"We sincerely hope that an amicable solution can be found to the present dispute, and will welcome any constructive proposals you may have," reads the letter, adding that Ascent is "ready to engage at a senior level" with the Slovenian government.
Friends of the Earth note that several EU countries have banned or introduced moratoria on fracking, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Slovakia, and Sweden.
ARSO issued a decision in March that an environmental impact assessment is needed before a permit can be issued for extraction of gas in Petišovci in the north-east of the country by re-stimulating two currently producing wells as planned by Ascent Resources and its Slovenian partner Geoenergo. The decision was upheld by the Administrative Court in June this year.
In 2018 the then Environment Minister Jure Leben ordered internal oversight at ARSO, which found pressure and threats had been exerted on the agency's work and that its independence had been undermined. The findings cost the then director of ARSO Joško Knez his job.
Incumbent Minister Andrej Vizjak has also said that he is not in favour of fracking.
All out reports on Ascent Resources in Slovenia