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Thousands of people have joined protests in eastern Romania against plans to exploit shale gas, voicing fears for the environment.
More than 7,000 Romanians protested on Wednesday in the eastern Barlad region against the plans of the US oil company Chevron to start drilling for shale gas, saying they worry about the impact on the environment.
Protesters expressed concern that the controversial method of tapping gas known as fracking could contaminate the ground water or encourage earth tremors.
"Any well, no matter how far away it is from my house, could pollute the ground water. Who will be responsible if my children drink contaminated water?” one protester asked.
Similar protests took place last year in eastern and southeastern Romania, in areas where Chevron was awarded licences in 2011 to explore for gas in three locations covering 2,700 square kilometres.
Chevron has tried to calm environmental fears, saying it will keep seismic data surveys for 12 months and insisting that its technology is safe.
The future of shale gas exploitation in Romania will mainly be down to politics, analysts say.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta recently changed his mind over fracking. Formerly, he was opposed. But in an online conversation last month he signalled a change of standpoint.
"First, Romania needs to confirm its shale gas resources. We should allow preliminary exploration of the reserves, a process which could take around five years. After that, any future shale gas development should comply with all European and global environmental standards,” he said.
The centre-left Prime Minister warned that Romania might get left behind and struggle to compete in terms of energy if its shale gas was not exploited.
In March 2011, when in opposition, Ponta’s Social Democratic Party, PSD, introduced a draft law in parliament seeking to ban shale gas exploitation by hydraulic fracturing.
Ponta took office in May, and a month later his PSD-led government rejected its own earlier proposed law.
Shale gas exploitation is controversial because of fears that fracking, which involves injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals into shale at high pressures, could pollute underground acquifiers and harm the environment.
Neighboring Bulgaria, as well as France, have halted all exploration of shale deposits owing to environmental concerns, while Britain stopped drilling in 2010 after exploration caused a minor tremor in northwest England.
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