Albanian villagers blame Bankers for earthquakes

TIRANA, June 18 Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:52pm EDT

TIRANA, June 18 (Reuters) - Albanian villagers, blaming Canada's Bankers Petroleum for what they called underground explosions, protested for a second day on Monday after opening the valves on storage tanks and releasing 1,000 tonnes of the company's oil.

Police arrested two villagers for breaking into Bankers' tanks and causing damage estimated by the company at $1 million (795,400 euros). Around 100 police intervened to prevent the risk of the oil igniting.

Villagers in Zharres, near the southwestern town of Fier, said they thought underground explosive techniques used to extract crude had caused cracks in their houses and widespread alarm.

Bankers denied responsibility.

"We...declare that none of our hydrocarbon operations causes explosions or earth tremors," Bankers' Albania general manager Leonidha Cobo said.

Calgary-based Bankers is focused on developing the Patos-Marinza onshore oilfield in Albania and has a deal with state-owned Albpetrol to take over and re-activate 120-130 wells each year.

Albania's Geoscience Institute has reported a series of deep underground tremors over the last week, with the latest on Sunday at 3.4 on the Richter scale at a depth of 12 or 13 km.

The villagers said the tremors happened regularly, most, as did the latest on Sunday, at 4am.

Besjan Pesha, the executive director of Albania's National Resources Agency, sat down with Bankers and the villagers to negotiate a solution, promising a scientific investigation.

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