* Romania may push forward after Dec. 9 elections
* Public resistance could yet stall plans
By Ioana Patran
BUCHAREST, Nov 29 Romania is among the best
placed of Europe's ex-communist countries dreaming of escape
from reliance on Russian gas, as its newly accessible shale
deposits place self-sufficiency within its grasp.
The obstacle, as elsewhere, stems from fears that extracting
gas from shale will pollute water for drinking and farms.
U.S. energy major Chevron wants to start drilling
for shale gas exploration near the town of Barlad and
campaigners have organised protests ahead of elections on Dec.
9, demanding a nationwide ban.
The current moratorium on shale exploration could be lifted
when voter pressure subsides after the vote.
But the Social Liberal Union (USL) of leftist Prime Minister
Victor Ponta, which will probably form the next government, has
yet to make its shale policy clear and the future is up in the
Other political groupings have also refrained from unveiling
their plans on the issue for fear of alienating voters.
"A decision would need to be made eventually. We hope this
decision will not be one to endorse this activity and
technology," said Bogdan Grecescu from Greenpeace Romania.
Activists hope all Chevron's exploration rights will be
annulled if they can secure an overwhelming majority against
shale gas in a non-binding referendum in the Black Sea town of
Mangalia, coinciding with next week's national elections.
Chevron has exploration rights for three blocks of 670,000
acres (270,000 hectares) near the Black Sea, and has also bought
a 1.6 million acre concession close to Barlad for an undisclosed
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 much
The strength of feeling in Barlad is demonstrated by Neculai
Rotaru, a retired army general and anti-shale activist, who said
he did not care that the company proposing to carry out the
exploration was from the United States or anywhere else, nobody
should do it.
"It is a criminal method as it leaves the environment deeply
affected, infected and contaminated," Rotaru said.
Romania's considerable conventional gas reserves mean it
only imports only about a quarter of the gas it uses.
Exxon Mobil and Austrian OMV's Petrom
have discovered what could be up to 84 billion cubic metres
(bcm) of conventional gas in an offshore Black Sea well, but
these big finds stand to be dwarfed by shale gas.
Analysts say that Romania's shale gas deposits, added to its
conventional reserves, could make it self-reliant in gas use.
"Adding the shale gas reserves, Romania may actually cover
all the internal demand from its own sources," said Otilia
Simkova, an analyst at consultancy firm Eurasia Group.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates
Romania and neighbouring Bulgaria and Hungary could have 538 bcm
of shale gas between them, slightly more than Europe's annual
consumption and enough to cover Romania's own for almost 40
In the United States, fracking has revolutionised the energy
sector, bringing a drop in domestic power and gas prices, but
environmental risks and denser population have made Europeans
The European Parliament rejected a ban on shale gas on Nov.
21 and asked for a robust regulatory regime to address
environmental concerns. The European Commission, the EU
executive, is expected to come up with a framework for managing
risks next year.
In the meantime, European Union countries are finding their
Poland is Europe's most ambitious advocate of shale and,
although it slashed expected reserves this year by 90 percent,
it is pushing to start production to limit dependence on
Russia's Gazprom, which supplies 75 percent of the gas
Among other formerly communist EU countries, Bulgaria has
yielded to protests and halted shale exploration.
Exploration is on hold in the Czech Republic due to
environmental concerns, while in Slovakia extraction could be
limited due to considerations regarding water tables around the
Danube, where some shale reserves are thought to exist.
Both countries are completely dependent on gas imports,
largely from Russia.