Bulgaria is rich in shale gas but lacks the political will to exploit it

Bulgaria is rich in shale gas but lacks the political will to exploit it

Bulgaria, which consumes three billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per year, has a shale gas deposit estimated at 500 bcm, but the legislation in force in the country prevents its exploitation and the government does not envisage to modify the status quoalthough Russia has stopped gas deliveries to Sofia.

Russia’s suspension of natural gas deliveries has led to the urgent delivery of US liquefied natural gas (LNG) and has experts putting unconventional gas on the agenda. The Bulgarian government has already announced that the contract with Russia’s Gazprom, which expires at the end of 2022, will not be renewed.

To reduce Bulgaria’s heavy dependence on Russian gas and oil, experts from the Bulgarian Energy and Mining Forum, the Bulgarian Natural Gas Association and other experts have called for the gas moratorium to be lifted of shale imposed ten years ago.

How much gas?

In accordance with the 2012 moratorium on exploration and extraction using hydraulic fracturing technology, shale gas was excluded from the list of energy resources.

The moratorium was adopted after protests by local communities and environmental activists, as well as pressure from the far-right Ataka party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Order, Law, Justice party, which today disappeared today.

Protests against shale gas in Bulgaria

Thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets to protest against shale gas exploration. They fear that these practices will lead to the pollution of groundwater, trigger earthquakes and pose serious health risks.

Before the moratorium, three companies were prospecting for shale gas: Park Place, which drilled near the village of Vranino in Kavarna, Direct Petroleum near the village of Deventsi, and Rusgeocom in the Dobrudja region.

Nevertheless, the Bulgarians have not been informed about the underground resources available to the country, although geological studies have been carried out in the north of the country for several years. According to various estimates, the country’s resources are estimated at around 500 billion m3.

Based on a study conducted by Direct Petroleum in 2013, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimated shale gas resources in Bulgaria at 481 bcm, and this figure is considered reliable , said Hristo Kazandjiev of the Bulgarian Energy and Mining Forum (BEMF) to EURACTIV.

According to him, 30 bcm of natural gas can be extracted without resorting to fracking.

The Bulgarian position and the European context

Today, there still does not seem to be the political will to authorize the production of shale gas in Bulgaria. EURACTIV asked Bulgarian Environment Minister Borislav Sandov whether there are certain situations that require the moratorium to be lifted.

“From an environmental point of view, there has been no change from the reasons for the protests years ago. So that can’t happen at this stage.”said Mr. Sandov, who is an ecologist by training.

He was one of the leaders of the mass protests against fracking and, as a representative of the Environmental Movement, he became environment minister of the Democratic Bulgaria party.

The chairman of the parliamentary committee on the environment and water, Manol Genov (BSP), also showed himself to be inflexible regarding the maintenance of the moratorium. He told EURACTIV that the eventual production of shale gas could have “dangerous environmental consequences”as it would threaten groundwater resources.

“It is better to drill in the Black Sea plateau. Romania and Turkey are already forecasting significant returns, this could be the case for our country as well”Mr. Genov said.

In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and the proclamation of the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, the European Commission became interested in the potential of shale gas.

In a communication to the Council and the European Parliament on hydrocarbon exploration and production in the EU, the EU executive said that Europe’s greatest potential for unconventional fossil fuels was shale.

However, eight years later, shale gas is not produced in Europe – despite studies in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and some pilot extraction projects.

Multinationals such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Eni and others have withdrawn from South Eastern Europe. The reason is the same: protests from local communities and conservationists who fear ground and surface water pollution during fracking.

Professor Spartak Keremedchiev of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences raised another concern.

“Given the failure of administration and quality control in Bulgaria, it is no wonder that people are worried about what might happen in the event of shale gas production and how the companies would be controlled. »

Ties with Russia

“Unofficial information from the services indicated that the Russian state company Gazprom had funded protests against shale gas exploration and production in Bulgaria through Brussels-based foundations”Traicho Traikov, Bulgaria’s former energy minister and current mayor of Sofia’s Sredets district, told Nova TV on May 11.

However, the political instability and the government crisis that are once again rocking Bulgaria make it unlikely that the question of lifting the moratorium on shale gas will be raised any time soon.

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