Shale gas: New frackings face old hurdles in Romania

Shale gas: New frackings face old hurdles in Romania

With the third largest recoverable reserves of shale gas in Europe and the necessary technology, Romania has everything it needs to benefit from unconventional energy sources. However, the subject remains sensitive for the population.

In the not-too-distant past, hydraulic fracturing was seen as a potential game-changer in the European energy market.

A European Parliament briefing note from 2014 indicates that technically recoverable reserves of shale gas in Europe amount to 14 trillion cubic meters (tcm), most of it in Poland (4.2 tcm), France ( 3.9 tcm) and in Romania (1.4 tcm).

In 2018, Poland and the UK had active licenses targeting shale gas, says a study commissioned by the European Commission on the principles of hydrocarbon exploration. Denmark, Germany, Romania and Spain had all granted concessions, which eventually expired, with some not even moving on to operate the site.

France has since banned the technology and exploration in northern Denmark has been halted, as only a limited amount of shale gas has been discovered.

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The European Commission’s REPowerEU plan, presented on May 18, proposes a series of measures aimed at diversifying gas supplies. But when discussing alternative energy sources, he does not mention shale gas, instead focusing on solar and offshore wind, heat pumps and renewable hydrogen.

Facing the past

Ten years ago, Romania’s largest natural gas producer analyzed the possibility of extracting shale gas, with companies that have petroleum agreements with the National Agency for Mineral Resources able to carry out exploration work.

“The 1994-1995 tests carried out on fields in Transylvania gave very good results. 3D seismic analysis shows results in the deep zone, below 3,000 meters »a Romgaz executive said at the time.

Shale gas was also the subject of particular attention in Romania in 2012, when Chevron Corporation began to explore the county of Vaslui, in the northeast of the country. Officials intervened on several occasions, with different positions, including the prime minister at the time.

But fears over the harmful environmental effects linked to hydraulic fracturing used in shale drilling have sparked protests by students, teachers, employees, local authorities and priests. The protests culminated in October 2013 with a “revolt” three days and clashes with the police.

Eleven Green MEPs expressed concern about the “violation of the rule of law and of the rights and freedoms of European citizens”calling on the President of the European Parliament to denounce the situation.

The US oil company closed exploratory drilling in 2014 because the “Romania project does not currently compete favorably with other investment opportunities in our global portfolio”the company said in 2015.

The government sued the company, and the International Court of Arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris ordered Chevron to pay $73 million in damages over the cancellation of three concession agreements petroleum.

Extensive experience in mining

When it comes to the technology needed to extract shale gas, Romania has more than a century of activity in the oil and gas industry.

Seven major oil and gas companies operate in Ploiești, about 78 kilometers north of the capital. One is major U.S. oilfield equipment maker Lufkin Industries, which received state funding for almost a third of the $126 million investment in its center. regional strategic, inaugurated in 2013 by President Traian Băsescu.

No shale exploration yet

The fracking debate was reignited in February 2014 in western Romania when residents of Curtici, a town of 7,500 people, and 11 other neighboring municipalities took part in a public meeting protesting the exploration of the shale gas in the region.

In August 2020, local officials from the same towns in Arad County expressed concern after Panfora Oil & Gas, a subsidiary of Hungarian MOL group, purchased land in the area to carry out exploratory drilling.

The Romanian National Agency for Mineral Resources has repeatedly confirmed that the work plans in the Curtici region “does not contain any reference to shale gas”.

“To address the concerns of farmers in the region, the company will perform computerized 3D surface geophysical measurements exclusively on public roads. The measurements will be carried out by special trucks driving without blocking traffic and using small wireless microphones”explained the subsidiary of MOL.

In mid-May, some farmers, angered by the new measures on agricultural roads, complained to local authorities.

Nearly a dozen municipalities shared their concern and banned further exploration. Panfora Oil & Gas challenged their decisions in court, without success.

L’Intelligent Energy Associationa non-profit group of energy professionals, recently demanded an official strategy on hydraulic fracturing, saying shale gas represents a huge opportunity for Romania to increase its energy security and reduce the costs.

“There is a huge reserve of tight gas, namely clay gas, but also shale gas, which is much easier to extract, estimated at 1.4 trillion cubic meters, in the region of Transylvania »said Dumitru Chisăliță, the president of the association.

“But since everyone was afraid of Pungești, no one talks about this reserve anymore”he told EURACTIV.

Romania’s integrated national plan in the field of energy and climate change for 2021-2030 does not mention the possibility of using hydraulic fracturing.

“Stop this because no country in Europe has started to exploit shale gas”said Dimitrie Muscă, one of the largest landowners in the region. “We have as much gas in the Black Sea as we want. There is great potential for agriculture, and we are developing it”he added.

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