Authorities react poorly and do not collaborate effectively
For about four months, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) has been monitoring the environmental pollution from hydrocarbon waste and the real and potential threat to the health and lives of inhabitants of the Zharrëz Administrative Unit, Patos Municipality, Fier County.
Initially, on October 18, 2022, a group of observers from AHC monitored this unit and met with inhabitants representatives of institutions, observed some hotspot areas, where pollution was easily identifiable, observed collection spots of hydrocarbon waste, or old wells, in the absence of security measures and rehabilitation measures. Part of these areas were very close to the places of residence of citizens and hothouses for the cultivation of vegetables, which are then sold in the open market. AHC met with inhabitants who confirmed that they received regular medications for blood illnesses; there were also inhabitants who declared that there was an increase in cancerous diseases and deaths related to them.
In the absence of complete information during the monitoring visit to some of the institutions we visited at the local level, AHC then addressed official requests for information. Not all institutions responded to these requests. In these circumstances, AHC filed a complaint with the Commissioner for the Right to Information and Personal Data Protection on the lack of a response from the Fier Judicial District Prosecution Office (with regard to information on criminal proceedings for pollution in Zharrëz) and the incomplete response of the Administrative Unit Health Care in Fier.
Based on the responses of some institutions, such as Patos Municipality, the Fier State Health Inspectorate (SHI), the Fier National Territory Protection Inspectorate (NTPI), and the Fier, Vlorë, Gjirokastra Regional Environmental Agency (REA), AHC finds a low level of reaction and lack of cooperation between these institutions, so that in a coordinated manner they can exercise their responsibilities to prevent pollution and sanction polluters. In particular, there is an environment of lack of initiative in ex officio inspections, which creates a climate of lack of accountability and responsibility toward operators that carry out operations in hydrocarbons in this administrative unit.
The REA, also due to the scope of its activity, is the institution that has conducted more inspection activity, compared to the other institutions that AHC has monitored. However, such inspection activity appears to have been carried out in a fragmented and non-systematic manner. Concretely, AHC notices that the REA carried out a series of inspections in 2021 and start of 2022. Following the inspection of 04.11.2021 on Albpetrol sha., the following immediate measure was taken: “Interruption of carrying out an act, activity, or part of it” because in Zharrëz, hydrocarbons were evidenced on the surface and a fine of 500,000 leks was imposed. Within the same month, on 25.11.2021, a second environmental inspection of this subject was done, and the fine of 1,000,000 leks was issued, complemented by the punishment of “Surrounding the area around the wells where oil extraction activity is carried out” and “Taking measures to protect land from pollution and erosion.” Another environmental inspection was conducted on Albpetrol on 06.01.2022 and inspectors issued the measure of “Warning”.” Earlier, on 27.07.2021 and 20.08.2021, the REA conducted also 2 environmental inspections on the subject Bankers Petroleum Albania LTD, which was fined with 1,000,000 leks and 500,000 leks, for violations related to the activity of the treatment of waste not in accordance with the environmental permit. AHC notes that the correspondence with the authority lacks information on the execution of the fines and how efficient they were in preventing pollution and rehabilitating the areas, which remains disturbing. It is also worth emphasizing that the REA could have coordinated better the collaboration with structures responsible for the environment in the local government units, according to law no. 90/2012 “On the organization and functioning of the state administration,” article 24, paragraph 2, letter “c,” in order to create joint units for carrying out inspection administrative tasks.
During the years 2021-2022, upon receipt of complaints by inhabitants of this area, Patos Municipality conducted two monitoring missions in the field. After these inspections, it found problems on which it sent official letters to the responsible subjects. After the first monitoring, the Municipality sent to the subjects Albpetrol SHA and Bankers Petroleum Albania LTD Fier letters for undertaking measures for the rehabilitation of land and the pollution caused by their activity. After this, Albpetrol ltd. informed the municipality that some measures were taken to improve the situation, among which verification of the situation in the field for cleaning oil well 2351, and compensation of one complaining inhabitant for rehabilitation of his agricultural land. Regarding the second monitoring mission, conducted almost one year later, the subject Albpetrol SHA was asked to take measures to remove hydrocarbon waste. The municipality has not made available to us information on whether the inspected subject responded or has taken measures pursuant to the municipality’s request.
Also, AHC notes that the responsible body, the SHI has not conducted any evaluation of the influence of the activity of Albpetrol sha. And Bankers Petroleum ltd. on the inhabitants’ health, pursuant to article 43 of law no. 10138, dated 11.05.2009 “On Public Health” and has not collaborated with local government authorities. In spite of the NTPI competences for inspecting environmental pollution, this institution has not conducted any inspection on its own initiative and only conducted one inspection initiated by the complaint of the “Zharrëza Association” complaint, after which it found the existence of an ecological hole in the process for obtaining a permit, for which it found no violations. although this institution has sought the cooperation of other competent authorities, this approach was noticed after the date of monitoring of Zharrëz by the AHC team, which points to awareness of the institution to react, although late.
Based on a comprehensive evaluation of all information and documentation we possess to date, AHC notes that the responsible institutions avoid part of their responsibilities, demonstrating partially negligence and lack of proper knowledge of their competences, but at the same time, lack of logistical means to measure pollution. Overlapping of competences, referred to as an impasse between the REA and the NTPI, is possible to overcome if there was good will to collaborate; therefore, in AHC’s assessment, these appear within the framework of legal artifices.
AHC wishes to underscore that the right to a healthy environment takes up a special place in article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a private and family life. In the case Hatton et al vs. United Kingdom (v.2003), the petitioner raised claims about the acoustic pollution that created by the airport located too close to the inhabitants’ place of residence. The ECtHR found violations of article 8 of the Convention as the state had failed to exercise its responsibilities, to regulate private industry in such a way as to guarantee proper respect for obligations deriving from this right. Furthermore, according to this jurisprudence, the persons have the right to become familiar with the information through which they may assess the level of danger posed to them and the state has the obligation to establish the procedure that enables individuals to become familiar with such information.
 Intermediate decision on taking immediate measure No. AKM-FR-2021-000274-4 dated 04.11.2021.
 Final decision of inspection no. AKM-FR-2021-000252-5 dated 24.12.2021. This decision establishes the minimum of the punishment by a fine envisaged by law.
 Final inspection decision no. AKM-FR-2022-000001-5 dated 16.02.2022.
 Final inspection decision no. AKM-FR-2021-000101-5 dated 27.08.2021. This decision establishes the minimum of the punishment by a fine envisaged by law.
 Final inspection decision no. AKM-FR-2021-000131-5 dated 14.09.2021. This decision establishes the minimum of the punishment by a fine envisaged by law.