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Bulgarians rage against shale gas

"Don't gas our water!" say street demonstrators

Shale-gas opponents in Bulgaria have been protesting against developing the unconventional fuel in the country. On 8 October, hundreds of demonstrators marched through the streets of the capital, Sofia, demanding a ban on shale-gas exploration.

Reportedly, the protestors wielded signs reading "Don't gas our water!" and "We know more about shale gas than ministers do – so fire them". Environmentalists cited France’s recent decision to ban hydraulic fracturing as a reason to prevent the practice in Bulgaria.

Last week, in the face of mounting environmental opposition to shale-gas exploration in the country, Bulgaria’s minister of economy, energy and tourism, Traicho Traikov, tried to reassure the public that shale gas could be developed safely. 

The issue is being hotly debated in the run up to Bulgaria’s presidential elections on 23 October. The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which is in opposition to the ruling centre-right Gerb, has called for a referendum on allowing shale-gas exploration.

The government says there could be 10 billion cubic metres (cm) of shale gas in a recently discovered deposit in Lovech, in the north of the country. If true, the country could cut its total dependence on gas imports from Russia to 500,000 cm/y within three years, it claims. Gazprom supplied Bulgaria’s entire 2.2 billion cm of consumption in 2010, according to Cedigaz.

In July, Bulgaria announced the auction of six shale-gas exploration blocks: four in the northeast; and two in the north-centre of the country. Chevron was awarded a 4,400 square km concession near Novi Pazar, in the northeast, in June. The block could contain as much as 1 trillion cm of gas, according to local media reports.

The US Ambassador to Bulgaria, James Warlick, has called for a balanced approach to shale-gas development in the country, pointing out that the US has also faced stiff environmental opposition to the process. He said the Bulgarian government must decide whether to proceed with shale gas development using “all the facts available” regarding the environmental effects and the resources available.

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