* Ban on shale drilling comes after protests
* Govt cancelled Chevron's shale gas exploration permit
* Imposes a fine of $65 mln for breaching the ban
SOFIA, Jan 18 The Bulgarian parliament
banned on Wednesday shale oil and gas exploration through
hydraulic fracturing or fracking due to environmental concerns
following widespread protests against the unconventional
The Balkan country is the second European Union state after
France to ban fracking, which involves injecting water mixed
with sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale formations.
Deputies across the political spectrum said there were not
enough proofs the drilling method was environmentally safe.
Critics worry it may poison underground waters, trigger
earthquakes and pose serious hazards to public health.
"The ban is permanent and applies for the whole territory of
Bulgaria and our territorial waters in the Black Sea," the text
of the decision read.
Initial estimates showed Bulgaria may have significant shale
gas reserves, up to 1.0 trillion cubic metres.
The centre-right government, initially a staunch supporter
of shale gas on hopes it may reduce the country's almost total
dependence on gas imports from Russia's Gazprom, has
changed its position after growing opposition to fracking.
On Tuesday, it cancelled a shale gas exploration permit it
granted to U.S. Chevron.
"We do want energy security and independence, but not at any
cost," deputy from the ruling GERB party Dian Chervenkondev
The moratorium stipulates a fine of 100 million levs ($65
million) for breaching the ban.
Shale gas is natural gas locked in rock formations that in
the past decade has been found in abundance around the world and
is considered a major source of future energy, but its drilling
method has been put under scrutiny globally.
Other former Soviet-bloc states such as Poland are
aggressively pursuing unconventional gas to help ensure future
energy security. The Czech Republic and Hungary are two other
countries exploration companies see as potentially promising.
In the United States, where shale gas has revolutionized the
U.S. natural gas industry, public health professionals and
advocates call for rigorous studies on impact of shale
exploration on health.
Britain suspended the deep-excavation practice near
Blackpool after minor tremors last year.