Energy  |  Successes  |  20.12.2013

Ban on Shale-Gas in Bulgaria: Bulgarian-Romanian Green Solidarity at Work!

Following big street protests by green activists the Bulgarian parliament passed a ban on exploratory drilling for shale gas using the extraction method called ‘fracking’.  This made Bulgaria one of only two EU member-states which have banned fracking, the other one being France. In January 2014 the legislative measure has entered its third year since enforcement. 

Bulgaria covers more than 70% of its gross energy demand by imports. Regardless of a considerable boom of renewables amounting currently to 16% of the installed electricity grid capacity, the country remains overall heavily dependent on Russian crude oil and gas. Bulgaria imports 2,811 million m3 of natural gas from Russia. Like other former socialist block members Bulgaria has been tempted by the promise of energy independency from Russia given by international shale gas companies. Under the pressure of green activists, however, the government took a U-turn and put a ban on fracking, declaring full adherence to the precautionary environmental principle. As a result of this policy decision, the permit given earlier to the US Company Chevron for shale gas exploration has been revoked. The ban took effect over the entire territory of the country and all forms of fracking. 

Over the last few years, green activism has mushroomed in Bulgaria making up for the lack of robust action on behalf of civil society in the country. Citizens’ mobilization has been exclusively the result of environmental issues and government policy decisions, taken by citizens as an onslaught on their environmental rights. Some protests have been triggered by unbridled construction on the Black Sea coast, others by the cultivation of genetically-modified crops or gold mining. 

Environmentalism seems to be in the most powerful argument to unite people in Bulgaria, regardless of their political or social differences. It has provided an effective antidote to widespread political apathy, and made institutions more responsive to public pressure. Green activism has also spilled across the Danube into neighbouring Romania. Bulgarian environmentalists have been instrumental in helping peers in Romania to oppose shale gas exploration by providing them with information and know-how. Both countries share aquifers that risk being polluted by fracking.  In 2013 Romanians took to the streets in numbers unseen since the fall of communism. Shale gas exploration became the subject of a national debate.

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