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Bulgaria turns to EU on shale gas plans

Bulgaria turns to EU for advice on environmental approvals for shale-gas development

Stop-start plans to exploit Bulgaria’s potentially sizeable shale-gas reserves, against a background of public protests, have become even more convoluted. The government has turned to the European Commission for advice on environmental approvals; meanwhile parliament has rejected opposition demands for a drilling moratorium.

Environment minister Nona Karadzhova said the government had asked the Commission to rule on whether it must carry out a thorough environmental-impact assessment before it could proceed with drilling – in addition to studies required under Bulgarian law. Chevron was awarded an exploration permit earlier this year.

Karadzhova said drilling would not be allowed if there were even a minimal risk of environmental damage. But parliament is resisting calls for a drilling moratorium, similar to that in place in France. Meanwhile, energy minister Traicho Traikov has called on the EU to develop bloc-wide legislation to regulate shale exploration and production.

Prime minister Boyko Borisov said he would support a moratorium, if MPs voted for one. But parliament has rejected a proposal by the nationalist Ataka party to include a moratorium proposal in the parliamentary agenda. Concerns are widespread across the political spectrum; the opposition Socialist party has also called for a moratorium and a referendum on shale drilling.

The government is broadly supportive of moves to exploit shale reserves, citing the country’s need to break its dependence on Russian gas imports and increase energy security.

Earlier this year, Chevron was awarded a five-year permit to explore the Novi Pazar field in northeastern Bulgaria. The field could hold as much as 10 billion cubic metres (cm) of gas, according to government estimates. If accurate, Bulgaria could slash Russian imports by more than 75%, to 500,000 cm/y, within three years of production starting up.

Chevron has yet to receive the go-ahead to drill, as the government seeks to quell public concerns over the safety of the hydraulic fracturing. A group of campaigners protested outside government buildings in Sofia last week, calling for a drilling moratorium.

Chevron, meanwhile, is already pushing ahead with shale exploration in Poland, where it began drilling its first well earlier this month. The supermajor also plans to drill a number of wells in Romania next year. If it pushes ahead with exploration in Bulgaria, it will pay €30 million ($40.5 million) for the permit, plus another €20 million over five years for environmental-protection measures, says the government.

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