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News 29 Jan 13

Romania PM Changes Tack Over Fracking

Romania's Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, now appears to back the idea of exploiting the country's shale gas reserves, having opposed it earlier.

Marian Chiriac

Romania’s leftist Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, has changed his mind over the controversial exploitation of shale gas reserves known as "fracking".

“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 be in compliance with all European and global environmental standards,” Ponta said in an online conversation.

But the Prime Minister warned that Romania might get left behind and struggle to compete in terms of energy if its shale gas was not exploited.

“Romania has to reduce its reliance on imports of natural gas from Russia and become energy independent. And, as the situation in the US and Poland shows, shale gas is cheaper,” Ponta added.

Back in March 2011, when still in opposition, Ponta’s Social Democratic Party, PSD, introduced a draft law in parliament seeking a ban on shale gas exploitation by hydraulic fracturing. Ponta took office in May, and one month later a PSD-led government rejected its own earlier proposed law.

Analysts say the government’s change of heart on the sensitive issue of shale gas exploitation is politically dictated.

“When in opposition, the Prime Minister and his party tried to raise public opposition to such a controversial issue. Now in power, they realize they have to balance environmental protection against the country’s energy needs,” economic analyst Ilie Serbanescu said.

Protests took place in April and May in eastern and southeastern Romania, in areas where, in 2011, the company Chevron Corp was awarded licences to explore for gas in three locations with a total area of 2,700 square kilometres.

Chevron tried to calm environmentalists' fears, saying it would keep to seismic data surveys for 12 months and its technology was safe.

Shale gas exploitation is controversial as some fear 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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