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News 19 Oct 17

Gas Drilling Plans Cause Uproar in Northeast Bulgaria

Locals and farmers in northeast Bulgaria are protesting against plans to extract gas in the General Toshevo municipality, fearing it could wreck the environment and livelihoods based on farming.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofiia
In 2011, Bulgarians staged mass ralies against gas fracking which resulted in a national moratorium on the extraction method. Photo: Ivan/CC BY-SA 3.0

Locals in northeastern Bulgaria who formed a civil initiative to stop natural gas extraction in General Toshevo municipality are staging a rally on Thursday against drilling plans in their region.

They are concerned that an investment project by the company RUSGEOCOM BG, which plans to extract gas from a gas field on the territory of the municipality, will pollute the environment and deprive them of their main means of living – agriculture.

Nikolinka Gitsova, a member of the committee, told BIRN that locals especially fear that extraction activities will pollute the only underwater acquifier in the region, Mal Valanj, as well as the air and soil. “We are not ready to take such a great risk,” she said.

RUSGEOCOM BG is a company registered in Bulgaria. In 2006, the Russian State Geological Company Rosgeologia was registered as a sole owner of the capital, but, according to the Bulgarian company register, a Sofia-based consultancy DD Management now owns it.

RUSGEOCOM has been searching for gas deposits in northeast Bulgaria for the past six years with the permission of the government, initially signed in 2003 and extended in 2007.

It has found gas deposits in the Spasovo gas field, which lies on the territory of 18 villages, and is planning to develop eight drilling platforms in the four sectors of the field over the next 35 years.

The regional environmental inspectorate in the northeastern city of Varna greenlighted a report by the company in August, agreeing with its findings that the project would not harm the environment.

During heated public discussions with locals, which started on October 16, the company tried to assure people of the low environmental and health risks and the economic benefits.

The locals, however, remain sceptical. Over 2,000 of them had signed a petition against the project by Wednesday, while the municipal councils of General Toshevo and Dobrich – a bigger city from the region, have issued positions against the gas project.

“Taking into consideration the great risk from the realization of the investment, we unite against this untypical and damaging … activity,” the council of General Toshevo said on Tuesday.

On October 28, when the last public discussion with the investors will take place in General Toshevo, farmers plan to block the international highway to Romania with their agricultural machinery in order to protest against gas drilling. 

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