* 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 (Reuters) - 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 procedure.
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 said.
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.