| BARLAD, Romania, April 4
BARLAD, Romania, April 4 Thousands of Romanians
across the country protested on Thursday against Chevron's
plans to explore for shale gas, demanding the country's
leftist government withdraw concessions and ban drilling of the
U.S. company's first test wells.
About 500 rallied in the town of Barlad on the eastern
border with Moldova where Chevron has a nearby 1.6
million acre concession, some wearing gas masks, many chanting
"Chevron go home."
Chevron has exploration rights for three blocks of 670,000
acres (270,000 hectares) near the Black Sea, and has also bought
the concession close to Barlad for an undisclosed amount.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract shale gas
involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into
underground rock formations.
Experts say that if it is done according to best practice it
is environmentally safe, but the technology still evokes public
Many countries in central and southeastern Europe see shale
gas as a way to wean themselves off Russian supplies, though
Romania only imports about a quarter of what it uses due to
Analysts say that Romania's shale gas deposits, added to its
conventional reserves, could make the Balkan nation self-reliant
in gas use -- a proposition many of the protesters say is not
worth the risk.
"Shale ... will only wreak havoc here," said 63-year-old
pensioner Elena Arsenie.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates
Romania and neighbouring Bulgaria and Hungary could have 538
billion cubic metres of shale gas between them, slightly more
than Europe's annual consumption and enough to cover Romania's
for almost 40 years.
In the United States, fracking has revolutionised the energy
sector, bringing a drop in domestic power and gas prices.
Environmental risks and denser population groupings have made
Europeans more cautious.
Over the past weeks, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta
has softened his views on shale gas since a parliamentary
election in December, which earned his ruling leftist alliance
an overwhelming two-thirds majority in parliament.
But analysts say if public opposition heightens further,
authorities might need to reconsider their stance on shale for
fear of alienating millions of voters and thus prevent the
company from setting up one of its biggest operations as the
country is gearing up for a presidential election in 2014.
Chevron said in a statement on Thursday that it would only
produce gas from shale using what it called were safe and proven
"Chevron respects that individuals have the right to voice
their opinions ... We recognize the importance of informing the
public about the technologies employed in the prospecting phase,
technologies which are commonly used in the conventional oil and
gas industry," Chevron spokeswoman Sally Jones said.
She said Chevron will only carry out prospecting activities
Romania is another emerging central European state along
with Poland where officials see vast potential shale reserves as
a key plank in ensuring future energy security.
But investors in Poland have grown concerned about
protracted work on a tax and regulation regime announced in
October as well as a steep cut in initial estimates for
potential shale reserves.