Troubled history weakens Romania’s shale gas exploration prospects –

With the third largest recoverable reserves of shale gas in Europe and the necessary technology at its disposal, Romania has everything it needs to benefit from unconventional energy sources, but the subject is sensitive for the public.

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

A 2014 information note of the European Parliament indicates that the 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 Romania (1.4 tcm).

As early as 2018, Poland and the UK had active licenses targeting shale gas, according to 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 as some did not even progress to operating the site.

From France banned technology and exploration in northern Denmark have stopped because only a limited amount of shale gas has been found.

Could Europe’s shale gas fortunes be reversed because of Russia’s war in Ukraine?

The European Commission’s REPowerEU plan, submitted on May 18, proposes a series of measures to diversify gas supplies. But when it comes to alternative energy sources, he doesn’t mention shale gas, instead focusing on offshore solar and wind power, heat pumps and renewable hydrogen.

Facing the past

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

“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 a hot topic in Romania in 2012 when Chevron Corp. began exploring in the northeast county of Vaslui. Officials have intervened on several occasions, with different positions, including that of then Prime Minister.

But fears of the adverse environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing used in shale drilling have sparked protests by students, teachers, workers, local authorities and priests. The protests culminated in October 2013 with a three-day “revolt” and clashes with police.

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

US oil company closed exploratory drilling in 2014 as ‘Romania project does not currently compete favorably with other investment opportunities in our global portfolio’ – EURACTIV cited a company statement at that time.

The government for follow-up the company, and the ICC International Court of Arbitration in Paris ordered Chevron to pay damages of $73 million following the cancellation of three oil concession agreements.

In terms of 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 of them is the main American oil equipment manufacturer Lufkin Industries, which received public funding for almost a third of the $126 million investment in its strategic regional center, inaugurated in 2013 by the President Traian Basescu.

No shale exploration yet

The fracking debate reignited in February 2014 in western Romania when residents of Curtici, a town of 7,500, and 11 other neighboring municipalities attended a public meeting protesting gas exploration of shale 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 for exploratory drilling.

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

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

In mid-May, some farmers were indignant at the new measures on agricultural roads and complained to local authorities.

Nearly a dozen cantons shared their concern and banned further exploration. Panfora Oil and Gas disputed their decisions in court without success.

The Intelligent Energy Association, a non-profit group of energy industry 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 prices.

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

“But since everyone was afraid of Pungești, nobody 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 thing because no country in Europe has started exploiting shale gas,” said Dimitrie Muscă, one of the region’s biggest landowners. “We have as much gas in the Black Sea as we want. There is great potential for agriculture, and we are developing it,” she said.

[Edited by Alice Taylor and Frédéric Simon]