Romania: Shale Gas Battle Set to Begin
The year 2012 appears to be bringing focus to natural gas activities in Romania.
A massive deep-water well in the Black Sea could begin production as early as 2015. Jointly developed by ExxonMobil and OMV subsidiary OMV Petrom SA, the Domino-1 well is reported to hold reserves of up to three trillion cubic feet of gas.
While Exxon is focused on offshore activities, fellow American based energy giant Chevron Corp. is targeting shale gas.
According to official figures, exploration over the next 20 years will lead to shale gas meeting about 25% of Romania's gas needs.
Following requests which began in 2010, Chevron submitted winning bids for concessions on three sites within South-Eastern Romania with a total area of 2,700 square kilometers and the right to explore an area in the city of Barlad.
However, the commencement of exploration activities in Romania faces opposition from several NGO's and civil society. The wide ranging perception exists that shale gas drilling is harmful to the environment.
In Bulgaria, protests led by environmenatists saw the revocation of a license granted to Chevron and a vote by the Bulgarian parliament in favour of a ban on the shale gas and oil extraction process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Romania and Bulgaria share the Balkan's largest underground resevoir in the Dobrudja area and Bulgarian authorities have warned Romanian collegues that shale gas exploration may put this resource at risk.
According to statements by Chevron representative for Romania, Thomas Holst, "Our operations are focused in two areas: Barlad and Dobrudja. First exploration well will be dug in Barlad in the second half of 2012 and in 2013 we plan drilling of eight wells in Dobrudja."
Taking its lead from Bulgarian colleagues, a group of the Romanian Parliamentary Opposition filed a legislative initiative with the Romanian Senate Secretariat that would prohibits shale gas exploitation using the hydraulic fracturing method.
The proposal to be debated by Parliament, seeks to stop exploration by Chevron and points to potential seismic risk in Constantza and Calarasi counties and to the Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant from the possibility of earthquakes as the result fracking, as has occured in the United Kingdom.
A citizen's initiative is also being undetaken to ban shale gas extraction in Chevron's concession area in the Barlad area, Vaslui County.
In Barlad, the Municipality has started a campaign to collect signatures to support a legislative initiative to ban gas shale extraction in area.
Barlad will host a protest match this Thursday, March 22nd, against what protestors say are government decisions that basically gave a free hand to Chevron to extract shale gas without consulting local citizens. The protest is supported by several members of Romanian Parliament from the current government coalition and from the opposition.
Protestors also seek to take legal action against shale gas exploration in Barlad.
Last week, Social-Democrat Parliamentary Representative Adrian Solomon said that local authorities are determined to lodge a criminal complaint against the head of National Agency for Mineral Resources - Alexandru Patruti, President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, because of their continuous support for Chevron's shale gas extraction in Romania.
The protests in Barlad are undoubtedly heightened as a result of the upcoming local election to be held this summer.
OMV Petrom SA is also investigating the potential for shale-gas exploration in Romania.
In a live chat on hotnews.ro, Mariana Gheorghe, Chief Executive Officer of Romania’s biggest oil company said it would decide on the next steps based on the results of a preliminary assessment and Romanian and European legislation.
Gheorghe's comments will likely add to the increasing debate in Romania.
The next step with regards to whether or not Romania will proceed with shale gas exploration will be taken when Parliament decides on the issue by adopting or rejecting the legislative proposals to ban shale gas exploitation.
Text: Silviu Molnar
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