Communes in Romania's Vaslui County Win Court Battle Against Shale Exploitation
The citizens of Vaslui County had their first court win in the battle against shale gas exploitation via hydraulic fracturing.
At the end of last week, the Vaslui Court House issued the motivation of a decision made in December that ruled in favor of the local council of the commune Al. Vlahuta in their dispute with the Prefecture.
The local council of the commune challenged the decision of the Prefecture that canceled the decision of the local council to forbid fracking.
This is one of 14 communes that have issued such decisions. The decision of the court in this case is surprising because 10 communes have lost cases against the Prefecture.
Furthermore, ruling Judge Elena Gabriela Aionitoaie put forward an interesting fact explaining how the Oil Law (invoked by Chevron supporters) does not mention anything relating to unconventional gas.
Judge Aionitoaie demonstrated another important fact: in the case of shale gas, Local Units have the right to decide if they will allow or not exploitation in their area. In current Romanian legislation, shale gas is not mentioned as being of ‘national interest’.
Al. Vlahuta Commune solicitor Oana Iovu added by stating “in the case file there is no expert report to show that in the area there are hydrocarbon deposits of this nature that must be exploited, against the will of the local administration.”
Even if this decision can be appealed in 15 days, the fact that a court of law, after careful examination of the legal context of the dispute, has ruled in favor of those who reject shale gas exploitation and exploration means an unexpected victory for the people of Vaslui County.
The fact that the court has looked carefully through the case file and to the legal framework for shale gas exploration has produced a new ruling. The law of local public administration (215/2001), the oil law (238/20054) and the Romanian Constitution, where it is mentioned what is of national public interest, were analyzed and the court has established two very important aspects: first, the court found that Al. Vlahuta commune has the right to issue decisions to forbid shale gas exploration and exploitation by unconventional means and did not exceed its powers; and second, that national public interest is invoked by Chevron supporters, is not mentioned in any Romanian law with regards to shale gas. This decision is not final and can be appealed to the superior court.
Meanwhile, the same decision was issued by the courts in Vaslui in the case files of another two communes, Pogona and Suletea. They have also challenged in court the canceling of the decisions of the local councils to forbid shale gas exploration. The reasons given by the courts were the same, that shale gas is not found in the oil law and was not declared of national interest and, in this case, the local council has the power to decide.
For the time being, Romanian authorities and Chevron representatives are not commenting on the new situation that could lead to a modification of the oil law to allow shale gas exploitation or to the blocking of this important economic activity by decisions of the local councils.
Chevron's position remains dedicated to dialogue as expressed by Cam Van Ast, External Communications Advisor for Onshore Europe.
George Epurescu, a representative of Romania fara EI (Romania without THEM) reiterated court findings and commented, “authorities have begun, by fraud and illicit methods, shale gas exploration and avoided the debate in the local communities. The Constitution mentions that the resources of the underground are on public property, not of the state. Public property is divided into state’s property and the property of the local units. In case of shale gas, they are not mentioned in the law as a national interest, so they belong to the local units, namely the commune.”