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Romanian villagers take on Chevron over plans to drill for shale gas

PUNGESTI, Romania--U.S. energy major Chevron, shielded by barbed wire, under police protection and under fire 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,” said grim-faced drill site-manager for Chevron, Greg Murphy.

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 the country.

Various new techniques for extracting oil and gas, notably “fracking” involving the injection of water and chemicals deep into rock to release reserves, has lead 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.

Demonstrators Disrupt Project

Chevron has broadened its attention to potential reserves in eastern Europe, especially in Poland and Romania.

But the company's attempts to establish its first exploration well in Romania were suspended twice at the end of 2013 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 coaches to avoid contact with the local people.

But 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 coaches came under fire from eggs. “We thought Chevron executives were inside,” a demonstrator told AFP later.

Chevron's country manager in Romania, Tom Holst, held that the objectors did not represent feeling in Pungesti, which includes several hamlets nestling in 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.

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