Twenty Romanian cities have been hit by the protests against the government’s decision to start shale gas extraction. The method used is hydraulic fracturing, which means the propagation of fractures in a rock layer by a pressurized fluid. It’s not safe for environment. The manifestations have spread to the neighboring Bulgaria. Those who sympathize with the Romanian demonstrators went to the streets of Dobrich, the ninth most populated city in Bulgaria, the administrative centre of Dobrich Province and the capital of the region of Southern Dobrudzha. If shale extraction starts in Romania, the city and its hydro resources will be affected…
It’s a long time since the shale gas development is an issue on the radar screen of East European media. It hits the agenda in Sofia, Warsaw. Vilnius and Kiev, making the gas controversy be openly tainted with anti-Russian tones.
Victor Ponta, the Prime-Minister of Romania, thinks the Russia-supplied gas is overcharged and shale gas extraction is the only way to guarantee energy security for the country. The energy security is declared to be the key priority of the government’s agenda for 2013. The authorities have decided not to extend the shale gas development moratorium and have started cooperation with Chevron, the second-largest integrated energy company in the United States. The Romanian protests have taken place under the «Chevron, go home!» slogans.
The West does its best to strengthen its influence in Central and Eastern Europe. The US insists the East European allies switch over to shale gas extraction instead of Russian pipeline supplies. It promises technical support and expertise sharing. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary have combined technically recoverable shale gas deposits of 538 billion cubic metres. Ukraine granted shale gas exploration rights to US Exxon Mobil and British Shell in 2010.
Chevron has a concession covering 600,000 hectares in the eastern Barlad region. The company also has three concessions in the Dobroudja region, near the Bulgarian border. Tom Holst, Chevron Romania country manager, does his best to gain a foothold in the East European market. According to him, only shale gas development could achieve energy independence for the Romanians. Lithuania is in talks with Chevron too.
Bucharest thinks the main obstacle on the way of becoming «Greater Romania» is Russia and the presence of its peacekeepers in the Trans-Dniester Region. The Romanian unionists are quite successful in their efforts in a number of areas: they promote the idea of the national unity along the both coasts of the Prut River, conduct activities to discredit Tiraspol, build Romanian churches on the territory of Ukraine, and call upon Moldavians to recognize national unity with Romanians. But they hit snags while tackling energy issues. In reality, Romania needs Russian gas, but this need is presented as a threat coming from Russia.
In Moldavia Romanian funds spur information war against those who support the idea of Moldavians being a separate nation and the fact of Russian military presence in the Trans-Dniester conflict zone. While holding talks on the Trans-Dniester problem, Bucharest fluctuates between Washington and Brussels on the one hand, and taking independent stand acting through Moldavia and Ukraine on the other. With the plans of the Trans-Dnieper annexation to Moldavia failed, the Romanian special services incite discontent with Chisinau among the Trans-Dnieper population, hoping to finally thwart any effort to make the Trans-Dnieper join Moldavia. This will to large extent ease the unification of Moldavia with Romania. 2013 is the year of Ukraine’s chairmanship in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It has made known its intent to give a new lease on life to the management of the Trans-Dnieper frozen conflict. Last year Kiev launched the demarcation of the Trans-Dnieper – Ukrainian border. The action threatens to convert the Trans-Dnieper into an economic reservation. Romania’s Foreign Minister Titus Corlгюean said the integration of Ukraine into the European Union will depend on its stance on the Trans-Dnieper issue.
It should be noted, Ukraine has no political, economic or cultural potential to substitute Russia in the conflict area. Pushing Kiev to act against Moscow and Tiraspol, Bucharest shifts part of the burden to Ukraine. The advocates of Romania becoming a great power need a weak and pliable Ukraine unable to resist.
Today, Kiev and Bucharest are getting closer, especially in the field of energy cooperation. Ukraine has increased its gas import from Europe through Poland to five million cubic meters per day starting April 1, 2013, reports Ukrtransgas, the Ukrainian gas transit state monopoly. This is 2.5 times the previous average amount of two million cubic meters per day.
The United States and the European Union try to create an East European bloc at the borders of former Soviet Union, which would be totally dependent of its own resources and the supplies from the Western partners. The former parts of the Soviet Union: Ukraine, Moldavia and the Baltic States are to join the ‘shale union», an association of states to be created.
Ukrainian and Moldavian explorers have already announced they have discovered significant deposits of shale gas in Moldavia right in the vicinity of Ukrainian border. Will the Romanian government listen to the voices of those involved in civil protests? Or will it ignore the fact that a number of countries have already banned fracturing? Time will show. At present, Chevron is involved in advertisement campaign and is calling on Romanians to launch an open discussion on the issue, hoping people will see how they benefit in case shale gas extraction starts.