Sunday 15 January 2012

Protests against hydraulic fractionation across Bulgaria.

Protests took place across Bulgaria on Saturday 14 December 2012, against plans by the government to allow US oil and gas company Chevron to extract shale gas by hydraulic fractionation ('fracking') in the country. Protests took place in the capitol, Sophia, as well as in the Dobruzha region in the northeast, in the Black Sea ports of Varna and Burgas, and the provincial capitols of Plodiv and Pleven.

Protestors in Sophia on Saturday 14 January 2012.

Hydraulic fractionation, or fracking, is a process by which pressurized water and chemicals are forced into buried shale deposits in order to shock them into releasing gas and sometimes oil. The process has been linked to earthquakes, accused of polluting freshwater aquifers and using excessive water in dry countries.

Bulgaria is currently regarded as the poorest country in the European Union, and is more-or-less dependent on imported gas from Russia to satisfy its energy needs. The country is estimated to have between 300 billion and one trillion cubic meters of shale gas in two fields, one near Novi Pazar in the northeast of the country, and one offshore on the Black Sea Shelf. The Bulgarian government has recently signed a five-year deal with Chevron, allowing the company to explore the Novi Pazar field, with the potential to break the countries dependence on Russian gas, and bring jobs and investment to the country.

However environmental group Fracking Free Bulgaria has objected to the plans on the grounds that the area is home to freshwater aquifers that supply much of the Balkans, and is already prone to seismic activity (which may heighten the possibility of chemicals used in the process leaking into aquifers, and the pressure blasts triggering larger earthquakes), and that the local population has not been consulted about the deal. In addition to the street protests a Facebook group called We are against a Bulgarian Chernobyl - The extraction of Shale Gas has attracted over 50 000 members.

The protests culminated with the presentation of a petition to the Speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament, Tsetska Tsacheva, calling for a moratorium on the process, something that has happened in a number of states around the world, including France in the EU. Tsacheva is reported to have promised a parliamentary debate on a moratorium, though since Bulgaria has already signed a deal with Chevron, this might be hard to enforce without being forced to pay some form of compensation to the oil company.

Exploration companies Park Place Energy and TransAtlantic Petroleum are also apparently interested in extracting shale gas in Bulgaria. Both companies claim to already have licenses to develop shale gas fields in Bulgaria, though the Bulgarian Government has not confirmed this.