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    Posted October 17, 2013 by

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    Get the Frack out of Romania!


    Hundreds of villagers from the Romanian village of Pungesti expressed their vehement opposition to Chevron’s intention to start exploring for shale gas in a nearby field. Sitting down on the grown and chanting “Thieves!,” in reference to both the US company and the Romanian government, they formed a human chain protecting the area, as trucks were arriving with Chevron’s exploration equipment. This is the third day of protests for the villagers. Pungesti’s local authorities had initially opposed hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. The local council even adopted a decision to ban the exploration and exploitation of shale gas as well the approval of any urbanism certificates and construction authorizations regarding the establishment of extraction wells on the village’s territory. This decision was self-revoked in June 2013.
    In July 2013, Chevron obtained permits to drill in three villages in this part of Romania, after, in May 2013, it had gotten exploration permits for several areas close to Romania’s Black Sea coast. The company announced its intention to create its first test wells during the second half of this year.
    By starting an extraction well in Pungesti and anywhere else in Romania, Chevron would embark on a questionable venture, given that the Eastern European country cur¬rently lacks a differentiation between conventional and non-conventional resources and has no procedures to evaluate the impact that shale gas exploration and exploitation can have on the environment. On the Romanian Ministry of the Environment, shale gas’ environmental impacts are featured as still under evaluation. According to existing Romanian legislation, an environmental license can only be released after the environmental assessment impact, alongside all the other materials, is submitted, reviewed and approved. In the case of a project, where the evaluation procedures have yet to be developed, Chevron cannot simply be initiating exploration and hoping for the best. That goes against a fundamental European principle stated in the Lisbon Treaty: the precautionary principle.
    Several European countries have already embraced a precautionary approach. France was the first European country to ban fracking in 2011. Most recently, France’s Constitutional Court upheld a ban on fracking, while France reaffirmed its intention to focus on developing renewable energy instead. In 2012, Bulgaria adopted a moratorium on fracking and immediately revoked an exploration permit previously granted to Chevron, invoking insufficient proof of  theenvironmental safety of the practice.

    At the same time, starting exploration in a community, which clearly rejects its presence, goes against Chevron’s officially stated commitment to protect the people and the environment and to consult communities regarding local needs. The company has been facing not just the Pungesti community’s opposition, but that of a large segment of the Romanian public. In Costinesti, one of the conceded regions, 94 percent of the population voted against fracking during a locally organized referendum. Throughout 2012 and 2013, over 8,000 Romanian citizens have come out to protest against fracking. In April 2013, meet¬ings and marches were held in many Romanian cities, in an effort to prevent fracking. In September 2013, when an on-going global Romanian protest movement against a Canadian-led open-pit mining project that would take place at Rosia Montana started, the over 200,000 people involved in the protests against Rosia Montana repeatedly expressed their solidarity with the anti-fracking movement.
    The Pungesti villagers’ current protests have been supported by over 2,000 people in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, and thousands more in other Romanian cities, such as Cluj-Napoca and Sibiu, who took to the streets chanting slogans such “Pungesti, don’t forget/The country is on your side,” and “United We Save Romania.” Many of the slogans were also directed toward the current political leadership, especially Prime Minister Victor Ponta, due to a radical shift in opinion regarding the topic at hand. In 2011, when in opposition, current Prime Minister Ponta’s Social Demo¬cratic Party (PSD) proposed a draft law demanding a complete ban on fracking, arguing that there was still a lack of study and legislative framework that clarified and regulated the technical conditions for exploring and exploiting shale gas.
    After gaining power, the PSD-led government rejected its own previously proposed law. Entirely contrary to his previos position on fracking, in January 2013, Ponta emphasized that the possibility of exploiting shale gas should be treated as a positive solution to increase Romania’s energy independence, since the country continued to pay the highest price for gas compared to Bulgaria, Hungary and other countries.
    In March 2013, the Romanian Prime Minister went one step further, by affirming that he is in favor of authorizing shale gas exploration and exploitation under appropriate environmental standards, in what he again described as an effort to ensure Romania’s energy independence from Russia.

    This is not the first time the Romanian Prime Minister has shifted his position on a crucial environmental topic. In regards to the aforementioned Rosia Montana project, Ponta went from being an ardent opponent of the project, while in opposition, to an even more ardent supporter and advocate, as he has repeatedly declared the project to be important for Romania.

    The question is: Will the Romanian people allow Ponta and his government to remain in power after the shale gas move or replace them with a political leadership more responsive to public demands?

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