Fracking technology could have given Bulgaria the chance to gain a foothold in the shale-gas bonanza, and become less dependent on Russian gas supplies. The process involves injecting pressurized fluid into rocks to promote the release of fossil fuels and could have released 1 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. But today the Bulgarian government bowed to public pressure and announced that it will not permit the controversial underground drilling process to move ahead.
Bulgaria initially granted the U.S. oil company Chevron a permit to explore the country’s northeast for valuable shale gas reserves. The reserves are under Bulgaria’s primary grain producing region and Bulgarians were concerned that fracking could have contaminated ground water under the farms that produce the nation’s food.
And the government relented. The Minister of Economy, Energy, and Tourism, Traicho Traikov announced on January 17 that the permit will be amended so that Chevron will only be able to drill using conventional wells.
Traikov did say that Bulgaria might eventually allow the use of fracking if research established that it held no risks for the environment.
Bulgaria’s caution reflects the increasing scrutiny that fracking faces throughout Europe and the U.S. In Europe, Poland and the Ukraine are the only countries that have been keen to develop their shale gas markets. The rest of Europe is holding off until the dangers of fracking are assessed.
In contrast, the U.S. has made shale gas a critical part of the country’s energy policy, comprising 30 percent of domestic gas production according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
At the same time, the DOE has identified substantial environmental consequences and possible health risks. The EPA recently determined that fracking was the probable source of groundwater contamination in Wyoming. The technique has also been tied to earthquakes in Ohio.
The rest of the world is watching how fracking unfolds in America.