Romanians protest Chevron fracking

“We will not let them drill here if we must die for this,” said Gheorghe Hrum, a Romanian retired forest warden. (AFP, Oct. 10)

Hrum was one of hundreds of Romanian protesters who conducted a convoy and rally at the village of Pungesti at a field where the giant, northern-California-based corporation, Chevron, plans to start fracking operations.

The protesters came in cars, trucks and even horse-drawn carts to confront cops and company goons. “They [Chevron] came with policemen and bodyguards to scare us but all we want is to be left alone, even if we are poor,” said Hrum.

Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas by pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals through deep underground horizontal wells to break up shale rock and release gas. Although oil and gas companies won’t disclose what chemicals are used, many have been found to be dangerous carcinogens that contaminate water wells.

A study published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 also shows a correlation between fracking and earthquakes. (corpwatch.org)

Opposition to fracking is strong in Europe. On Oct. 9, the European Parliament approved rules forcing energy companies to carry out in-depth environmental audits before drilling. (New York Times, Oct. 9)

France has banned fracking. Bulgaria outlawed fracking after major protests against Chevron’s plans to drill in Dobrudja, the most fertile farm region in the country.

Romania is now the hotbed of the struggle against fracking in Europe. Chevron signed secret lease agreements with the Romanian government. Not one dime of royalties goes to local communities or landowners — all goes to the government and politicians’ pockets.

In August 2010, the U.S. Department of State launched its “Global Shale Gas Initiative” to promote the extraction of shale gas in other countries.

The U.S. ambassador to Romania at the time, Mark Gitenstein, is a former lobbyist for Chevron. He is a board member of Fondul Proprietatea, a joint stock company established by the Romanian state that holds shares in all major Romanian oil, gas and power generation companies. (New England Center for Investigative Reporting)

When the Romanian people found out about the fracking lease agreements, they organized massive protests of over 5,000 people at Bârlad, an impoverished town in an area where Chevron planned to begin drilling.

The Romanian Social Liberal Union party (USL) at the time voiced support for a ban on fracking. Yet, when they won elections and took power in 2012, the USL reversed course and now favors giving Chevron a free hand to conduct fracking wherever it wants in Romania.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta instructed his ministers to “go further on the right way, like the United States and not to be influenced by anti-fracking campaigns.”

Chevron’s drilling royalties and tax payments to Romania are less than half of what it pays in the U.S. Local Romanian communities get nothing but contaminated water. Corruption among Romanian officials is said to rival that of Saudi Arabia.

Opposition to fracking by the Romanian people remains fierce.

Chevron organized a series of “town hall meetings” to promote fracking. At one of these, armed guards kept most local people out, claiming it was an “invitation-only” event. The next “town hall meeting” nearly ended in riots. (New England Center for Investigative ­Reporting)