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Eastern Europe Chasing The Shale Revolution

Diana Lawrence, The Globe and Mail

Eastern Europe could become the next hotbed of shale gas exploration as oil and gas moguls, such as Chevron Corp., chase opportunities in countries that want to establish their energy independence from Russia and rebuild their economies.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates the combined gas reserves in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary could equal more than 535-billion cubic metres of gas. This would be enough to restock Romania’s consumption for almost 40 years, according to the agency, as Romania’s average annual consumption totals about 14-billion cubic metres.

Despite these motivations, the use of the controversial shale gas extraction method – known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking – has already caused serious domestic opposition in Eastern Europe.

While countries such as France and the Netherlands continue to ban the practice, Romania lifted a moratorium on fracking earlier this year. Protests ensued. However, the country is moving ahead in its pursuit of energy independence and has since granted exploration permits to U.S.-based Chevron to explore the country’s Black Sea region. In July, Chevron obtained permits to explore several sites in eastern Romania and this means the company has now acquired leases for more than four-million acres in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania for shale gas exploration and evaluation.

But it will be years of drilling and exploration before the full potential is realized, explains Sally Jones, Chevron’s external communications adviser for Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East.

“We are at the early stages of our exploration activities in Central Europe. This phase of exploratory work will take anywhere between three to five years. Then we will have a clearer idea of whether hydrocarbons are actually present, their potential scale, and whether they can be developed commercially,” Ms. Jones says. “It may then be 10-15 years before full commercialization.”

Chevron’s shale gas exploration will take place in two counties of Romania – Vaslui and Constanta – and there are plans to start drilling at the Vaslui deposits as early as the autumn. The company is currently trying to ease the population’s worries over fracking even as photos emerge of Romanian protesters holding signs that read “Go home Chevron,” and “We say no to shale.”

Promises of substantial economic benefit are making it easier for politicians to brush aside the potential environmental risk and to get the shale gas market up and running. Most notably, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who in the country’s 2012 election criticized the previous ruling party for its support of LNG exploration, has since shifted his stand and now enthusiastically backs this move.

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