The Bulgarian government has decided to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for the purposes of oil and gas exploration, following widespread protests over the procedure’s environmental consequences. The unconventional procedure requires pumping a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals to open up fissures in shale rock to extract oil and gas. Bulgaria is the second European country after France to ban fracking.
Affected by the decision is California-based Chevron, which had recently won a tender to explore gas in shale deposits in Northeastern Bulgaria. Chevron had agreed to pay the Bulgarian government 30 million euros ($38 million) to explore its vast shale deposits, estimating it could extract up to 25 billion cubic meters of gas from the region, which is six times the country’s annual consumption.
In addition to millions in investment dollars, Chevron would have created jobs in Bulgaria, and reduced the Balkan country’s dependence on Russian gas.
However, despite the recent decision from parliament, Chevron remains positive about the future of oil and gas exploration in Bulgaria.
“Chevron is confident that a considered review of the issues of concern in Bulgaria, using reputable scientific information, will do much to allay the concerns of the Bulgarian people and demonstrate that exploration and development can be done while protecting people and the environment,” said Chevron spokesman Kurt Glaubitz in an emailed statement to BusinessWeek.
The U.S. has used fracking to unlock its vast gas deposits in previously inaccessible locations. As a result, it surpassed Russia to become the world’s biggest gas producer in 2010.
Yet despite its potential contribution to economic development, fracking still presents considerable environmental consequences. In particular, pumping chemicals deep into the ground increases the possibility that pollutants could contaminate water sources and farmland.
And just last year, exploratory test drilling for shale gas in the UK had to be stopped due to apparent Earth tremors. In Ohio, gas drilling was halted temporarily after a series of tremors and a 4.0 earthquake rocked the state.
Clearly the environmental consequences associated with fracking are big enough warrant concern. Yet as Poland has demonstrated through its large fracking program, often the environmental concerns take a backseat to other issues such as economic development and energy independence.