Chevron suspends shale gas exploration to ‘reassure’ Romanians

Shale gas protest in Romania [Shutterstock]

The American multinational energy corporation Chevron has suspended its shale gas exploration activities in Romania, announcing that its only activity over the next 12 months will be seismic data surveying and reassuring citizens and policymakers concerned about perceived risks.

Chevron, the fourth-biggest American corporations and second-biggest among the six "supermajor" oil companies, announced on 2 April that it was suspending its activities in respect to the exploration and extraction of shale gas in Romania, due to concerns related to hydraulic fracturing.

According to the Romanian press, the decision is occurring after the nation-wide protests in the country and in particular in the towns of Vama Veche and 2 Mai, in South East Romania where the shale gas exploration is due to take place. 

Citizens and environment activists asked the Romanian authorities to revoke the concession agreement with Chevron, which entered into force on 28 March.

Similar protests across the border, in Bulgaria, have kept Chevron at bay, since the country's parliament passed a ban on shale gas drilling last January, following unprecedented protests.

"We understand the concerns in Romania. We believe that by presenting factual information on how these technologies are conducted, Romanians will understand that this natural gas is a clean source of energy and that it can be produced safely and responsibly," Tom Holst, country manager for Chevron in Romania, is quoted as saying.

Consequently, Chevron states that the company will continue to undertake planned seismic studies in 2012, while focusing on "providing factual information to assure Romanian citizens and policymakers concerned about the perceived risks of natural gas exploitation from shale formations".

The company said that positive indications from its seismic investigation may be followed by standard drilling, techniques employed in conventional oil and gas activities.

"Romania has been producing natural gas and oil for many years. The same techniques will be used to determine if the country can significantly reduce imports of natural gas," Holst added. 

Chevron said that is in the process of initial permitting for a conventional exploration well in 2012 in Vaslui county, which borders Moldova.

Shale gas is an 'unconventional' fossil fuel that is found within natural fissures and fractures underground. Until recently, no method of safely transporting it to the surface existed.

However, by pumping water, sand and chemicals into rock formations under high pressure via a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking', energy companies believe they have found a part of the answer to Europe's energy security problems.

The method remains intensely controversial because of its possible environmental risks, including poisoning groundwater and higher greenhouse gas emissions than traditional gas.

To proponents, shale gas represents a hitherto untapped and welcome alternative energy source to traditional fossil fuels. At the moment the continent depends on gas imported from Russia, and disputes between that country and Ukraine have disrupted winter supplies in recent years.

In the US, shale gas already accounts for 16% of natural gas production and some analysts predict that could rise to 50% within 20 years.

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