* Residents oppose shale exploration
* Protesters and riot police turn out in equal numbers
* Romania holds estimated 51 trln cubic feet of shale gas
By Bogdan Cristel
PUNGESTI, Romania, Dec 7 U.S. oil major Chevron
halted exploration works for shale gas in eastern
Romania for the second time in two months on Saturday after
anti-fracking protesters broke through wire mesh fences around
Thousands of people have rallied across Romania in recent
months to protest against government support for shale gas
exploration and separate plans to set up Europe's largest open
cast gold mine in a small Carpathian town.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates Romania
could potentially hold 51 trillion cubic feet of shale gas,
which would cover domestic demand for more than a century.
Chevron won approval to drill exploratory wells in the small
town of Pungesti in the impoverished county of Vaslui in October
but had to halt work soon after when residents blocked access to
the site. It resumed work on Dec. 2.
On Saturday, about 300 riot police were deployed in
Pungesti, 340 km (210 miles) northeast of capital Bucharest, to
try to prevent an equal number of protesters, mostly local
residents, from entering the Chevron site. Some broke through
into the site, however.
The activists chanted "Stop Chevron" and held banners saying
"No drilling allowed here". Dozens were detained by police.
Chevron said some equipment had been damaged on the site.
"Chevron can today confirm it has suspended activities ... as a
result of unsafe conditions generated by unlawful and violent
protester activities," it said in a statement emailed to
"Our priority is to conduct our activities in a safe and
environmentally responsible manner consistent with the permits
under which we operate, however this was not possible today."
Shale gas faces opposition due to concerns around hydraulic
fracturing, or fracking, the process of injecting water and
chemicals at high pressure into underground rock formations to
push out gas.
Critics, including the Pungesti protesters, say it can
pollute water supplies and trigger small earthquakes. Advocates
say it has a strong safety record and point to countries like
the United States, where extensive fracking has driven down
Chevron, which also has rights to explore three licence
blocks near the Black Sea, does not have plans to use fracking
under its five-year exploration programme. It says is abiding by
all safety regulations.
It said last month it had filed a civil lawsuit against
protesters in Poland who have prevented it from reaching a site
where it plans to explore for shale. It said the action was
filed on the grounds that protesters were violating its lawful
right of access to the site - one of four shale gas exploration
concessions the company has in Poland.