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Bulgaria backs off on shale gas exploration

Bulgarian lawmakers gave in to strong public pressure over environmental concerns and on Wednesday banned shale gas exploration and production through "fracking."

an well extracting oil from shale

Hydrofracking has not yet proved to be safe

The Bulgarian parliament has slapped a ban on shale gas exploration and production through hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," a commonly used method that uses high pressure injections of water, sand and chemicals to blast through rock and release oil and gas trapped inside.

The decision follows months of widespread protests from environmentalists across the country. Critics say there is high risk of contaminating soil and drinking water and of triggering earthquakes.

The government had planned to start drilling for shale deposits in northeastern Bulgaria as a way to decrease dependence on Russian natural gas deliveries.

Environmental concerns

In a special resolution, the parliament on Wednesday "banned the use of the method of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil exploration on Bulgarian territory and its Black Sea waters."

Violators risk fines of 100 million leva (50 million euros, $64 million) and confiscation of all equipment.

On Tuesday, the government revoked a test shale gas exploration permit granted to US oil giant Chevron, citing "the lack of sufficient assurances that the commonly used shale gas drilling method of hydraulic fracturing can guarantee environmental safety."

Environmentalists welcomed the ban but said shale gas exploration by fracking should not only be banned in a resolution but forbidden by law, as is the case in France.

Author: Dagmar Breitenbach (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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