Romania reverses course on shale gas

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In a widely expected U-turn, Romanian authorities yesterday (31 January) gave the American energy giant Chevron the certificates it needed to start exploring for shale gas in the eastern part of the country.

The Romanian authorities reversed their decision from last April to suspend Chevron from gas exploration activities.

The decision takes place nine months after protests in southeast Romania, in particular in the town of Vama Veche, where shale gas exploration is due to take place. 

>> Read: Chevron suspends shale gas exploration to 'reassure' Romanians

The country’s senate overwhelming rejected a motion to ban shale gas exploration. Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who took office in May, had proposed the legislation when his party was in opposition.

>> Read: Romania leaves options open for shale gas development

After its re-election in December, the Ponta government's return to shale gas exploration comes hardly as a surprise. On 25 January, Ponta said he supported shale gas, according to the Romanian agency Hotnews.

“Exploration, yes. After confirmation of the existence or non-existence of shale gas, which would take appreciatively five years, we will take the decision which presumes yes, we will exploit shale gas, while respecting all European and world standards for environmental protection,” Ponta said.

Chevron obtained zoning certificates in eastern Romania enabling it to explore for shale gas, despite controversy about the effect of the aggressive extraction process - called fracking - on the environment, according to local authorities quoted by Agence France-Presse yesterday.

The next step for Chevron is to obtain a construction permit before it can start exploratory drilling, the head of Vaslui County council, Dumitru Buzatu, said.

The EU has so far declined to comment on individual decisions by member countries to ban or to develop shale gas. According to a recent study published by the European Commission, there is no need for specific EU legislation on shale gas, at least for the time being. 

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