US energy company Chevron Corp, shielded by barbed wire, under Romanian police protection and under assault from egg-throwers, is in trouble in Romania with villagers angry at its drive to drill for shale gas.
Opposition is fierce in the tiny remote village of Pungesti near the border with Moldova, which has become a symbol of hostility to the environmentally controversial techniques of extracting shale gas.
“In other countries, I have not experienced this type of protest,” Chevron drill-site manager Greg Murphy said.
His words were almost drowned out by cries of “Stop Chevron,” “Thieves” and “Please leave,” from dozens of demonstrators at the wire barriers as he showed journalists the site in the northeast of Romania.
Various new techniques for extracting oil and gas, notably “fracking,” involving the injection of water and chemicals deep into rock to release fuel reserves, have led to booming production in North America.
The flows of this cheap energy are causing upheaval on world markets in what the International Energy Agency describes as an energy revolution.
Chevron has broadened its attention to potential reserves in eastern Europe, especially in Poland and Romania.
The company’s attempts to establish its first exploration well in Romania were suspended twice at the end of last year owing to demonstrations by villagers.
Now the site is a “special security zone,” and people in the area have to show identity papers.
Chevron has gone on a charm offensive with an “open day” bussing the media pack directly into the site in buses to avoid contact with the local resistance.
Yet villagers outmaneuvered the minders, made their way across fields and turned up uninvited to vent their anger as the Chevron executives showed journalists around.
One of the buses carrying journalists came under assault from eggs.
“We thought Chevron executives were inside,” a demonstrator told reporters later.
Chevron Romania country manager Tom Holst said that the objectors did not represent general feelings in Pungesti, which includes several hamlets nestling among hills.
“I would say that people of Pungesti are very anxious for this project. There are benefits to be had and those benefits are jobs. There are approximately 60 locals who are working here on the project, about 30 from Pungesti,” he said.
“Given the recent events in the Ukraine, countries are very, very concerned that they have energy security and that they are not dependent on imports,” he said, referring to Russian intervention in Crimea and a big increase in the price of Russian gas for Ukraine.
Romania, unlike many countries in eastern and western Europe, is not heavily dependent on Russian gas since it produces gas itself, and last year imported from Russia only about 10 percent of its supplies, according to financial newspaper Ziarul Financiar.
Yet the main concern which drives opposition to the drilling is that fracking technology could seriously damage the environment below and above ground.
On this, too, Holst was reassuring.
“This is an exploration well,” he said. “Hydraulic fracturing will not be used.”
Many local people object that if the drilling finds gas, it will be only a matter of time until fracking techniques are used.
Their homes bear banners saying: “I don’t want fracking,” or “Stop Chevron.”
Mariana Morosanu, a 33-year-old farmer who has cows, goats and chickens, referring to a common concern that underground water reserves could be contaminated, asks: “If it’s not dangerous, why did France ban fracking?”