By Svetla Dimitrova
A new law in Bulgaria to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may need to be revised, as experts say it effectively blocks all drilling and field survey procedures associated with the exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas in the country.
Experts say that a provision in law, under which the pressure used to drill for the extraction of oil or natural gas cannot exceed 20 atmospheres, will affect all drilling done at 200m depths and lower.
Bulgaria has become the second EU member state to ban hydraulic fracturing and similar techniques for the exploration and extraction of shale gas in the country and its territorial Black Sea waters.
The law, passed by parliament by a vote of 166-6 vote on January 18th in wake of mass protests by environmentalists, entered into force on January 24th. Violators face fines up to 50m euros.
In June, US energy giant Chevron was granted a license to use hydraulic fracturing or fracking of shale gas in northeast Bulgaria. The company now has three months to revise its plans in line with the new law, or have its license revoked.
Valentin Nikolov, deputy chairman of the parliamentary group of the ruling centre-right party GERB, said the move showed his party “works with and listens to the opinion of civil society”.
Encouraged by the success of its anti-fracking campaign, the Civic Initiative on Banning Shale Gas Exploration and Extraction in Bulgaria is now turning its attention to neighbouring Romania, where Chevron is due to start drilling for shale gas within months.
The group, which organised the rallies in Bulgaria, said at a news conference it had drafted an open letter to Romanian authorities, urging them to take notice of the controversial technique.
Shale gas is natural gas found within natural fissures and fractures in underground formations. The hydraulic fracturing technique, in which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped under high pressure, helps open up the fissures and release the gas.
“That method is harmful,” Borislav Sandov, a founder of the civic initiative, told SETimes. “It has poisoned the water and soil in many places around the world. There are dozens, or even hundreds of such cases in the United States, in Germany, in Poland. It also triggers earthquakes, as pointed out in official reports of the Ohio Geological Society.”
Bulgarian Eneregy and Economy Minister Traicho Traikov told bTV that Russia’s Gazprom is currently charging Bulgaria more than 382 euros for 1,000 cubic metres of natural gas, while countries that have shale gas are paying 76 euros for 1,000 cubic metres.
“The parliament’s decision is depriving us of an argument in the negotiations with the Russians,” the minister said.
Bulgaria, which buys 98% of its gas from Gazprom, could be sitting on 300 billion cubic metres to 1 trillion cubic metres of shale gas, Bloomberg news agency said, citing the Bulgarian energy and economy ministry’s estimates.
Ivan Ivanov, a member of the parliament’s economy, energy and tourism committee and an MP for the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party, regretted the ban’s adoption, but was content that his party voted against the measure.
“Our position is based on several principles — mainly that energy is an element of the country’s national security,” he told SETimes. “The efforts therefore should be aimed at ensuring Bulgaria’s energy security and energy independence. The prospecting for, and subsequently the extraction of, shale gas can help achieve both goals simultaneously.”
Secondly, Bulgaria would be able to reduce its dependence on Gazprom, which, taking advantage of its monopoly, keeps raising the price of the natural gas it delivers to the country, Ivanov continued.
“Thirdly, the competitiveness of Bulgarian goods will grow, as the price of the main energy resource, which is natural gas, will be much lower,” he said.
Bulgaria’s unilateral dependence on Gazprom allows Russia to play a certain role in the country’s political decision-making process, according to Ivanov.
“Gazprom, which is implementing Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin’s geostrategic plans through its policies, knew that if Poland, Romania and Bulgaria start extracting shale gas, the western route of Russian natural gas deliveries will effectively be cut off,” he said.