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Romanian village to hold referendum on shale gas extraction

Romanian village to hold referendum on shale gas extraction

By Daniel Stroe - Bucharest

The local counselors in the commune of Puiesti, Vaslui County, in Eastern Romania, unanimously decided on the last day of 2013 a referendum shall be organized in February for the population to have it say on shale gas exploration within the settlement’s perimeter, even though the prefecture doesn't recognize the legitimacy of such plebiscites.

Ten out of a total of 13 counsellors attended the meeting held on Tuesday, 31 December. “It is normal the population is consulted when it comes to such problems of major importance for the community. We will see what the citizens decide” mayor Costel Moraru said as quoted by the state newswire Agerpres. A likely rejection of the exploration works will ruffle feathers of government representatives in the territory who will seek to annul the results in court on the grounds underground resources belong to the state.

The Vaslui County Environment Agency last week organized a debate on the shale gas at the town hall of Puiesti but the meeting was interrupted by hackles of those opposing the project. The US company Chevron is set to start exploration works around the commune.

The debate was attended by citizens, local authorities, but also environmentalists from across the country. The representatives of the environment agency were met with boos while opponents started shouting slogans against Chevron. The American company gas exploration licenses for three perimeters in the Vaslui County and submitted the necessary documentation for a fourth, near Puiesti.

At Pungesti, one of the three exploration sites, Chevron met strong resistance form villagers who forced the company to two suspend the works despite a heavy presence of gendarmes in the area. People clashed with the police and destroyed the fences around the exploration wells.

The protests started on 14 October and amid wide media coverage Chevron decided to suspends the exploration works near the village of Pungesti. The company had received a permit on 3 October to install the first exploration well after it had submitted all the necessary documentation. Chevron also received exploration permits in three other areas in the Constanta County, in SE Romania.

As the protest movement gathered strength, the local council called for a referendum on the shale gas exploration and banned until the plebiscite all the shale gas related works. The Vaslui County prefecture sued the local counsel as did with other local bodies which banned exploration works. In Bucharest, authorities tried to remove the locals’ fears, pointing out Chevron does only exploration works, and not production.

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