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Home / Resources / News / Shale gas, global capital, global resistance

Shale gas, global capital, global resistance

Article by Diana IftodiShale gas is a complex issue which is often reduced to just another fight between leftist environmentalists and rightist pragmatic policies. However this distracts the public’s attention from real facts. Most importantly, it is an issue that has become more salient in the aftermath of protests “against the system” worldwide. Such protests have shed light on structural issues we’re facing, or, to paraphrase an official featured in Gasland 2,  educated, western societies find themselves in situations similar to former colonies or current third world countries. It seems that capital doesn’t discriminate anymore.  On the upside, this surge of protests means that more mature civil societies are readier than ever to take on this problem and assume the power and responsibility to prevent the impact hydraulic fracturing will have on the environment and the livelihood of the communities.

Hydraulic fracturing is the method used to release shale gas from impermeable layers of rocks. In short, the method is the last phase of a process which implies installing a derrick, pushing a pipe covered with cement at a depth of more than 2 km and then using very high pressure to push a fracturing fluid consisting of water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to crack the rock right open and release the gas. The innovation that allows gas companies to squeeze this gas out of the ground is horizontal drilling, which can spread to as much as 4 km.  You’ll hear the gas industry or national governments claim that the technology has been used for the last 60 years, but the truth is that it has only been used since a decade ago. The procedure is very hard to control and even if kept under control it invariably implies that around 80% of the fluid will remain in the ground and eventually migrate to the surface.

The Environmental Protection Agency in the USA has quite blatantly avoided supplying the public with a clear-cut study on the method but the experiences of thousands of Americans speaks clearly in documentaries such as Gasland 1 and 2. People have reported methane gas in their water, benzene and other volatile substances in the water and air, water scarcity, earthquakes and strange illnesses appearing in the community.  Insurance companies don’t ensure houses in areas around shale gas exploitation and hundreds of towns and communities have voted to ban the method on their territory while others have simply left town.

Now, the oil companies want to export this method of exploitation to Europe. Recent reportsfrom the Friends of the Earth Europe show that how shale gas not only is it not a miracle for the energy sector as it could barely represent 2-3% of the European gas demand in 2030, but it will cost Europe much more to develop at the detriment of renewables.

Romania supposedly has the third largest shale gas deposit in Europe.  If in the USA, Congress exempted gas companies practicing hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other environmental laws, in Romania, there isn’t even a need for this as the Environmental Protection Agency has already declared itself in favour of the exploitation. No more use for lobbyists either. The issue of shale gas first arrived in Romania not when the oil companies did but only after licenses were granted, along with warnings received from shale activists in Bulgaria. By that time they had already taken to the streets in great numbers, which prevented a shale gas industry developing.  Shale gas exploitation is not a local problem as it can hardly be contained and handled. Even if this wasn’t the case, the perspective is clearly a worldwide exploitation, as the map above shows, and so, the resistance will be just the same.

No hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has taken place thus far in Romania. The American company Chevron has a license to explore-develop-exploit almost 900.000 hectares in the counties of Vaslui and Constanta.  Several other companies have bid and won licenses for other perimeters in the western part of the country. Recently, the state-owned company Romgaz has also declared its interest in investing in shale gas in the centre of the country, in Transylvania. In fact, in the past year, the company Prospectiuni S.A. has contracted many exploration works throughout the country. If it weren’t for the tens of thousands people who have taken to the streets in the entire country, denounced the government’s lack of transparency and try to raise awareness on the risks implied by the exploitation, no one would think hydraulic fracturing is anything but conventional drilling.

Resistance in Romania has articulated along different lines. Some react to corruption, others to the theft of resources and others to the impact in the environment. There are now four legislative projects in Parliament proposing to ban the method but Prime Minister Victor Ponta and president Traian Basescu have both declared themselves in favour of the exploitation and have even tried to promote shale gas as a strategic resource. USA officials have also been very assertive in the matter, as has an adviser to the Prime Minister, Wesley Clarck, a former lobbyist and “player” in the oil industry. After a long series of nationwide protests beginning with March 2012 when the former Prime Minister, followed by thousands of people protesting and marching in Barlad, Vaslui county, the authorities saw that there is no way around public debate. Unfortunately, the debate has yet to take place. The National Agency for Mineral Resources has resumed to create a website which does not debate the issue but makes a purpose out of biasedly busting all the risks around the method. It is strange to see the Romanian agency dare say more than EPA itself to defend the method (The Environmental Protection Agency in the USA). Such actions are reason alone to distrust public authorities. Another example would be how the national Environmental Protection Agency granted the environmental agreement to Chevron for three perimeters in Vaslui county. Not only did the institution not consider the observations supplied by environmentalists and other concerned citizens, but it took a lot of pressure from protesters and the Media to force Minister Rovana Plumb to come forth with an explanation.  The minister was forced to ask Chevron for an Environmental Impact Report, which wasn’t done by public authorities and experts but was commissioned and paid for by Chevron. The Minister of Environment closed the issue by soliciting this report and later the agreement was granted, though there is no sign of it on the institution’s official website. Legal action has been taken by several NGO’s, addressing this aspect as well as the environmental agreement’s legality itself.

The opposition to the project in Vaslui is unprecedented. 14 local councils have voted to ban hydraulic fracturing in their communities, entire villages have marched to express their will and priests, teachers, geologists from Barlad have taken it upon themselves to inform and mobilize people to protect their county. A Group of Civic Initiative, as it calls itself, was created and is now active on more than one level in the community.

The first drilling is planned to start this October in Gagesti, Vaslui county. Local communities are determined to stop it at any price and, along with nationwide protests, an experience similar to that of the Polish village of Zurawlow is bound to take place. Local peasants camped out in the field in Zurawlow to block any exploiting done by the same company, Chevron.

Join us in Cluj-Napoca during the Global Frackdown Action on October 19th 2013 and take part “No Fracking Way“, during the Transeuropa Festival (Zorki Photo Café, 18:00-20:00)