Italian Company Expected to Spend $70,000 for Methane Gas This Month as Costs Quintuple

Surging methane prices in Italy are putting glassblowing businesses in the line of fire for financial losses, the Associated Press reported.

The price for the methane that powers the glassblowing ovens has skyrocketed five-fold on the global market. The glassblowers of Murano, who have dozens of furnaces on the lagoon island, must use methane to burn around the clock or the costly crucible inside the ovens will break.

In the past, Murano transitioned to creating well-crafted artisan pieces to compete with low-priced products from Asia.

Simone Cenedese, who owns a medium-size glassblowing business, consumes 12,000 cubic meters (420,000 cubic feet) of methane a month to keep his seven furnaces going for 24 hours. Cenedeses business shuts down just once a year for annual maintenance in August.

"People are desperate," said Gianni De Checchi, president of Venice's association of artisans Confartiginato. "If it continues like this, and we don't find solutions to the sudden and abnormal gas prices, the entire Murano glass sector will be in serious danger."

Cenedese is projecting methane costs to go from his normal bill of around 11,000 euros to 13,000 euros a month to 60,000 euros ($70,000) in October.

For more reporting form the Associated Press, see below.

Glassblowers worry as methane costs increase
Glassblowers in Murano worry how their companies will survive as methane prices increase. Above, a glassworker gives the last touch to a creation in a factory in Murano island, Venice, on October 7, 2021. Antonio Calanni/AP Photo

Cenedese, like others on the island, is considering shutting down one of his furnaces to confront the crisis. That will cost 2,000 euros for the broken crucible. It also will slow production and imperil pending orders.

His five glassblowers move with unspoken choreographed precision to fill an order of 1,800 Christmas ornaments speckled with golden flakes bound for Switzerland.

One starts the process with a red-hot molten blob on the end of a wand that he rolls over gold leaf, applying it evenly before handing the form to the maestro, who then re-heats it in one oven before gently blowing into the wand to create a perfect orb. It is still glowing red when he cuts it from the wand, and another glassblower grabs it with prongs to add the final flourish, a pointy end created from a dab of molten glass applied by an apprentice.

As that dance progresses, another starts, weaving and bobbing into the empty spaces. Together, they can make 300 ornaments a day, working from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"No machine can do what we do,'' said maestro Davide Cimarosti, 56, who has been working as a glassblower for 42 years.

Murano glassblowers decades ago transitioned from wood ovens, which created uneven results, to methane, which burns at temperatures high enough to create the delicate crystal clarity that makes their creations so highly prized. And it is the only gas that the glassblowers are permitted to use, by law. They are caught in a global commodities Catch-22.

For now, artisans are hoping the international market calms by the end of the year, although some analysts believe volatility could persist into the spring. If so, damage to the island's economy and the individual companies could run deep.

The Rome government has offered relief to Italian families confronting high energy prices but so far nothing substantial to the Murano glassblowers, whose small scale and energy intensity make them particularly vulnerable. The artisans' lobby is meeting with members of parliament next week in a bid to seek direct government aid, which De Checchi said is possible under new EU rules put in place after the pandemic.

Beyond economic losses, the islanders fear losing a tradition that has made their island synonymous with artistic excellence.

Already, the sector has scaled back from an industry with thousands of workers in the 1960s and 1970s to a network of mostly small and medium-sized artisanal enterprises employing a total of some 300 glassblowers. Venice's glassblowing tradition dates back 1,200 years, and on Murano it has been passed down from father to son for generations. But even at its reduced size and despite its creative rewards, it struggles to attract young people to toil in workshops where summertime temperatures can reach 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit).

"The value of this tradition, this history and this culture is priceless, it goes beyond the financial value of the glass industry in Murano," said Luciano Gambaro, co-owner of Gambaro & Tagliapietra. "Over 1,000 years of culture can't stop with a gas issue."