In 1945, Enrico Mattei, a left-center Christian Democrat,was given the task of dismantling the Fascist-created state oil company Agip (Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli).
Mattei took the job, but instead of shutting Agip down, he worked diligently to restore the company and make it a national asset. In 1949, he decided to increase the company’s economic viability. He announced that soon Italy would be able to meet all its own energy needs thanks to substantial fields of oil and methane discovered in northern Italy.
It was nonsense, of course, but in a country devasted by the war, his promise of riches was well-received. Agip, a state-owned company that nevertheless operated like a private one, did well on the stock exchange and quickly became financially solid.
Mattei’s problem was the big seven – Shell, Gulf, Standard Oil (New York and California), Exxon, BP and Texaco. They monopolized the best fields and weren’t about to share. So Mattei did an end run; he went to the poorest countries in the Middle East – Like Tunisia and Morocco – and promised them a 50-50 share. He went into the Soviet bloc to make deals and he went to Africa. In 1953, Italy created the Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi or ENI which became the parent company of Agip. ENI acquired refineries and pipelines – and for some reason a news agency – and was soon competing with the big seven. Mattei used some of the company’s profits to support the independence movement in Algeria.
In 1960, Mattei made deals with the Soviet Union and China. Finally a real player, ENI was invited by the big seven to take part in a divvying up of the Sahara, but Mattei demanded they all support Algerian independence. No agreement was reached.
On October 27 in 1962, Mattei boarded his company jet to fly from Sicily to Milan. Somewhere over Lombardy, in a storm, the plane crashed and Mattei, his pilot and an American journalist were all killed.
It was officially declared an accident.
But in 2001 a German documentary claimed that evidence of an explosion had been destroyed at the crash site.
Previously, in 1970, an Italian filmmaker had asked investigative journalist Mauro de Mauro to look into Mattei’s last days. Not long after, de Mauro disappeared. His body was never found.
ENI, btw, operates the Oshie field in Nigeria, where the natural gas produced by oii drilling is burned in what’s known as the Oshie flare. The flare has been burning since 1972, raising the temperature in the area by as much as 15 degrees. The area, home to a village of 1700 Nigerians, has been devasted by the drilling operation. ENI and the Nigerian government have promised improvements for years, but to date nothing has been done.