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Romania secretly expands fracking after Pungesti protest against Chevron

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Since October 2013 a remote village in Romania has been the site of increasingly difficult protests against a Chevron hydraulic fracturing operation, originally believed to be the only so-called fracking site in all of Romania. According to a report posted Sunday on the Frack Off Romania blog, activists have located dozens of other fracking sites in Romania.

The Romanian Government has quietly allowed fracking operations to get underway, most of which, currently, are exploratory wells. It is thanks to the efforts of anti-fracking activists in Romania that anybody knows it is occurring. Neighboring country, Bulgaria, banned hydraulic fracturing in Jan. 2012, the second European country to do so. Romania had instituted a moratorium against hydraulic fracturing, but in May 2013 Chevron received a permit to begin exploratory work to determine hydraulic fracturing potential in Romania. While the moratorium has not been lifted, Environment and Climate Change Romanian Minister Rovana Plumb has said the exploratory work presents no environmental risk because it is not fracking, at this stage.

Anti-fracking protests began in October 2013, in Pungesti, a tiny village near the border with Moldova. Chevron is planning several fracking exploration sites in the area of Pungesti, and has begun work at one site, 2 hectares in size, which became the site of continuous protests between October and mid-December 2013. The protests culminated in an event where protesters tore down fences surrounding the Chevron site, and dozens were arrested when hundreds of riot police swooped in.

Since then several whole villages, centering on Pungesti, have been under severe travel restrictions so bad that The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania - Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH) issued a report saying that fundamental rights were being denied because "Locals were denied freedom of movement (Article 25), the right to freedom of expression (Article 30), the right to information (Article 31), and freedom of assembly (Article 39)." More recently six members of the European parliament sent an open letter to EU President Martin Schultz protesting abuses by the Romanian Government against its people.

The first inkling activists had that fracking was underway elsewhere in Romania was a series of curious, shallow depth, earthquakes near Galati Romania. The earthquake swarm began in late September 2013, and each of the quakes was between 5-10 kilometers deep. Locals complain of water being poisoned by hydrogen sulfide, a known side effect of hydraulic fracturing. Government officials deny hydraulic fracturing operations occurred in the area. However, Petrom does operate a natural gas well a couple kilometers away, and a pair of county government officials said Petrom had used salt water injection processes. The Galaţi County Council President Nicolae Bacalbaşa later had to retract his words, which were said during an interview on the Antena3 TV station.

Now, activists have identified dozens of sites at which either exploratory work is underway preparing for fracking, or fracking wells are already in operation, or activists have identified suspicious activities but have not yet verified what is occurring. In one case, at the Punta Monastery in Bucovina, the monks refused to allow exploratory work to occur on Monastery land, and they'd discovered hydrogen sulfide poisoning in several wells.

Frack Off Romania claims in another recent blog post that, while activists have focused on the site near Pungesti, the government and oil companies have secretly rushed to build out fracking sites elsewhere around the country. Oil companies have even, reportedly, lied to locals telling them that drilling rigs were in fact wind turbines. In order to win over locals near Pungesti, Chevron distributed backpacks full of educational material and candy to children, which many see as an attempt at bribery.

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