On Monday, nearly 400 protesters in northeastern Romania called on Chevron to “go home” as they blocked the U.S. energy giant’s convoy from reaching a field where test drilling for natural gas was scheduled to begin.
According to the AFP, the protesters from the impoverished village of Pungesti, near the Romania-Moldova border, included many women and children, some of whom arrived in horse-drawn carts.
The Romanian government’s decision to open the country to fracking has sparked protests across the country. Demonstrators are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, whose center-left coalition, once opposed to fracking, pre-election, has since changed course.
Concerns over groundwater contamination, a problem which has plagued natural gas developers in the U.S., is at the heart of objecting Romanians’ protests. Romania’s southern neighbor, Bulgaria, has already outlawed the technique and has seen protests of its own against Romania’s stance, as several natural gas concessions in Romania lie along the Bulgarian border. Anti-fracking activists in Bulgaria fear soil and water contamination of the entire region if Romania embraces fracking.
Bulgaria has the most polluted air in Europe. Just as advocates of fracking in the U.S. tout its vital role in helping the nation become energy independent, proponents of the practice in the Balkans see expanded domestic natural gas production as a way out from underneath Russia’s energy control.
Elsewhere in Europe, fracking remains no less controversial. Last week, France’s highest court upheld a government ban on fracking. The ban had been challenged by the U.S. company Schuepback Energy, in response to having its exploration permits revoked after then-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government passed a law prohibiting the technology in 2011.
Across Europe, natural gas is responsible for about 24 percent of the region’s energy mix, but only 0.1 percent of that gas comes from fracking. In the U.S. 15 percent of natural gas is extracted using this controversial technique.
Just days before the recent court decision in France, the European Union voted to require energy companies to conduct thorough environmental audits for all proposed fracking operations. Previous legislation had only required such environmental impact assessments for natural gas projects that extracted more than 500,000 cubic meters a day.
Over the summer, Britain also entered the fracking debate with a bang, as over 1,000 protesters set up camp in West Sussex to demand an end to test drilling by Cuadrilla. The energy company left the site in late September, taking its test rig with it, but only after more than 100 people were arrested, including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.
While water contamination poses the most immediate threat, fracking is also controversial because natural gas wells can leak large amounts of the extremely potent greenhouse gas, methane. In the most recent IPCC report, experts updated their estimate of methane’s global-warming potential from 25 to 34 times that of carbon dioxide.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that Romania’s recoverable shale gas resources at 51 trillion cubic feet. The only European countries with larger reserves are France and Poland.