A few weeks ago the Bulgarian parliament voted to ban Chevron from using hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, to drill for natural gas in the country’s northeast. The parliament voted to amend the exploration license, awarded to Chevron in June 2010, for five years by limiting Chevron to conventional drilling methods. The parliament granted the license for shale gas exploration at the 4,400 square kilometer Novi Pazar field. Reuters reports that the estimates for Novi Pazar are between 300 billion and one trillion cubic meters of shale gas. Bulgaria hopes that shale gas production will reduce gas imports from Russia.
Concern for water and leaking gas
Public concern over possible contamination of the drinking water supply with chemicals and leaking gas prompted the vote. Three days before the vote on January 14, several thousand people, calling for a ban on fracking, protested in rallies across Bulgaria. Bulgaria is the second nation to ban the use of fracking. France banned the use of fracking last summer.
Economy and Energy Minister Traicho Traikov told reporters after a cabinet meeting, “The idea is that they can still have the right to test for oil and gas, but without using the controversial technology hydraulic fracturing.
“It was a mistake that the necessary wide public debate on this topic has not happened, so that it is explained to people what fracking means,” Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said during the Cabinet discussion before the decision to change Chevron’s exploration permit. “If people are not convinced that this is the right thing, my reasoning is that we should stop [fracking] and start the public debate now,” Borissov said.
However, Borissov added that potential investors need to persuade the Bulgarian people that exploring shale is both safe and profitable, which sounds like the door is open to approve fracking down the road. To make matters worse, Traikov said that Bulgaria could allow fracking if found to have no environmental risks.
Some EU nations have issued shale gas exploration permits. The English language news site, SofiaEcho.com reports that Bulgaria will return to the issue once it is on the EU agenda. Hopefully, the EU will take a strong stand against fracking.
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