Chevron announced today that it has finished drilling its first exploration rig in Pungesti and that it will withdrew from the village of Pungesti, which seen one of the most dire human rights situations in reaction to fracking in the whole world. The move comes one day after the peaceful protest of the 25 people from Greenpeace, coming form 7 countries, was staged, yet no connection between the two events was made so far.
Chevron was supposed to be drilling until it reached the depth of 4.000 meters, yet it withdrew after having drilled only about 3.000 meters depth. No further explanations were made by the company as to why it did not go all the way down, as proposed. The drilling was supposed to be taking 3 months, yet Chevron made the announcement 2 months and one week after its aofficial announcement of the beginning of the drilling. The activists in the area, who tried to keep an eye on the works, maintian that the drilling started earlier than the beginning of May, as the last part of the rig arrived in Pungesti on 18th of March, and the scene was all set for it to begin. An explanation of this earlier withdrawal than expected could be due to this situation which was held from people’s eyes, whatever the reasons are.
Some inofficial rumors, also coming from inside the Chevron site, have it that the research in the laboratory has already begun and that there are no prospects for shale gas in the area of Pungesti.
The activists are nonetheless very prudent and are expecting to see further developments until they believe such news. According to the planned project, made by the American company it accompanied Chevron, Halcrow, Chevron had the explicit permission to also do a test micro-fracture, which apparently did not take place at the site. Even the Romanian Environment Minister said there will be no fracking job done in Pungesti, despite the planning documents of Chevron.
According to Chevron’s press release, they have operated under maximum safety and the drilling finished without any incidents. Yet, there are enough evidences to think that there was a serious accident which happened at the drilling site on the 18th of May, but it was covered up in a “X-files” manner. Also, the locals and the activists have documented alterations of the colour of the water in the nearby waterstream, as well as heavy air pollution coming from the site. The continuous noise, as well as the high speed at which the numerous of trucks going back and forth through the village, especially at night, were a contant nuissance for the locals.
Of course, the biggest problem of the presence of the Chevron’s rig in Pungesti was the restriction of the civil liberties of the locals, as well as the incredible abuses of the riot police, documented by different NGOs, including Friends of the Earth Europe, who published a report on the dire human rights situation in Pungesti, which culminated with the Romanian state declaring the area around the rig a special security area, by means of an illegal order, as the situation in Pungesti was not among the situations defined by the Romanian law as requiring such a measure to be taken.
The news of Chevron leavin Pungesti leave the activists and the community without much information of whether they are expected to be coming back or not. Everyone is now expecting the results of the laboratory analysis of the rock. Yet, everyone expects that Chevron will move to its following site, which is a few km further South from Pungesti, Puiesti. Here, the local council has adopted a fracking ban, voting unanimously. The ban was challenged by the court in Vaslui county and the local council won, on grounds that the state is the only one entitled to be deciding how to tackle subsoil ressources. This is just one of the 10 other court decisions who go against the right of the communities to decide what type of economic development they want on their territory, unlike the court in New York, who decided last week that the communities accross New York have the right to ban fracking by means of planning regulations.
Other 3 local bans have won previously, with a different argumentation, stating that shale gas is not listed in the oil law as belonging to the state – in fact, shale gas and unconventional fuels don’t show up anywhere in the Romanian law -, which makes it an asset of the local community. These 3 decisions, taken by a different court than that who previously decided differently, the court in Iasi county, are now challenged by the Prefecture Vaslui (the institution representing the Romanian government at the county level).
The activists and the locals in Puiesti are prepared to defend their village the same way they did it in Pungesti, if the heavy machinery will start showing up.
Greenpeace activists from 7 countries stage protest at the Chevron shale gas exploratory well in Pungesti
A group of 25 Greenpeace activists from seven countries on Monday staged a protest in Pungesti, at the site of the exploratory shale gas well owned by U.S. company Chevron, pressing for a ban on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction, reads a release of the environmental organization on Monday.
The activists from Romania, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Germany staged a peaceful protest and declared a quarantine zone around the Chevron well, forming a human chain at the entrance of the Chevron frackingm site, and then chaining themselves to the fence surrounding the well and held up banners with the messages: “Pungesti — Anti-Chevron Quarantine Area”, “NO to Hydraulic Fracturing”, “Stop the Abuses in Pungesti!”
In April this year, Chevron started drilling its first official shale gas exploratory well (there are fearsm of others, done quietly, hidden from the public scrutiny, in other parts of Romania). Chevron also plans to install other wells in the neighboring villages. The company obtained the environmental agreements for four more rigs in the county of Vaslui: Paltinis (Bacesti), Silistea (Pungesti), Popeni (Gagesti) and Puiesti; for the latter the Vaslui County Council has also issued the necessary building permit.
So far, 13 local councils in the County of Vaslui (Alexandru Vlahuta, Bacani, Coroiesti, Dumesti, Gherghesti, Pochidia, Perieni, Pogana, Puiesti, Tutova and Vinderei) adopted decisions banning shale gas exploration and exploitation.
Chevron Romania also received three exploration, development and exploitation farm-out agreements for three blocks in Adamclisi, Costinesti and Vama Veche, located in the South and South-West of Constanta County, bordering Bulgaria, which has a ban on fracking dating back to January 2012.
Greenpeace CEE Romania, alongside other non-governmental organizations, challenged in court Chevron’s four exploration / development / exploitation shale gas fracking farm-out agreements for the blocks in Vama Veche, Adamclisi, Costinesti and Barlad.
In Romania, several local councils issued decisions to ban fracking based on the law on public local administration that confers the authority to decide on the environmental and development policy of the administrative unit. The said decisions were challenged by prefectures (the representatives of the Government at th county level) and are pending before courts in the counties of Vaslui, Iasi, Arad, Bihor and Suceava.
On the other hand, the highest court of the State of New York ruled on June 30, 2014 that towns can use zoning ordinances to ban hydraulic fracturing, acknowledging the towns’ authority to ban fracking through land use regulations.
The Romanian antifracking campaigners are hailing the news that the biggest Labour Union in UK, UNITE, with more than 1,5 million members across the UK, has restated its support for the antifracking fight in the UK. Last Thursday, after debates and increased activity on the subject of fracking, UNITE has adopted a motion put forth by Gerard Sheridan, representing the NW region of Merseyside (area around Liverpool), seconded by Tony Staunton. The new motion is reaffirming the commitment of the UNION Labour Union in the antifracking fight put forth already in 2012, at the Unite Policy Conference.
The document is briefly summing up the dangers of fracking, underlining its possible substantioal impacts on the climate change and the aggressive pursuit of this practice in the UK, despite the growing concerns regarding fracking worldwide.
Furthermore, it emphasizes the impacts of the first fracking operation in the UK, near Blackpool, Lancashire, ehen the fracking operations were suspended after the earthquakes taking place next to a fracking site.
The motion is also emphasizing the long term negative impacts of the vast majority of workers and of communities, while also making clear that the activity in itself poses a big threat to the site workers, exposed to high levels of crystalline sylica, and potentially threatened by lung cancer, sylicosis etc.
Furthermore, the paper calls for Unite to make all members aware of the dangers of fracking, to actively oppose it, to use its influence to prevent fracking operations, advise members not to work on fracking sites, nor deliver material to such operations. The support offered by the biggest antifracking Labour Union in the Uk is wideranging and can help massively for the advancement of a frackfree UK:
- support and lobby a moratorium on all fracking activities across the UK
- encourage the Labour Party (with whom it has strong ties, which has been rather supportive for fracking, so far, with few exceptions) and Labour controlled councils to take actions formally opposing fracking in the UK
- request Regiona Committees support local anti-fracking groups´activities, including the very useful help with funding
- encourage members at all levels of the union to support campaigns against fracking and to link up with local campaigners.
The proposals of UNITE go even deeper and are calling for nationalising the energy services, by calling for taking profit out of energy production and distribution and favouring the public ownership and democratic control of the energy industry with the direct input of the local communities and trade unions, in order to create a sustainable and balanced energy policy.
This support of the biggest labour union in the UK is crucial for the antifracking campaign, as it has already set-up infrastructures to mobilise the people to take action. So far, the biggest challenge of the British antifracking campaign was, as elsewhere, how to more efficiently educate people about the dangers of fracking and mobilise them.
UK has a strong tradition of Labour Unions fight and the fact that it takes up on a vital issue affecting the life of the British society makes it a modern institution. With 3 million of members across the world in total, in Ireland, North America and the Carribean, UNITE has the potential to be a game changer in the antifracking fight.
Here is the text of the motion adopted by the Union Policy Conference last Thursday.
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Originally posted on 17.06.2014, on Health and Environment Alliance’s page:
Sandra Steingraber spoke about the health impacts of fracking at a public gathering in Pungesti, Romania on 11 June 2014, just prior to the walk along the village road that prompted police brutality.
On Wednesday 11 June, I traveled to the remote community of Pungeşti in eastern Romania’s Vaslui County. Rising from a field bordering the village of Siliştea, near the only public road in and out of the area, is a drill rig installed by Chevron for purposes of shale gas “exploration.” Villagers told me that drilling had commenced in May. This rig—the first shale gas well in all of Romania—went on line in spite of an intense, months-long oppositional campaign by locals that was joined and supported by activists from all over Romania.
For background on this struggle and the police brutality experienced by anti-fracking activists and those supporting them, see the December 2013 report by David Heller and Antoine Simon of Friends of the Earth Europe.
About 300 people inhabit Siliştea. The population of the Pungeşti community as a whole, which incorporates nine neighboring villages, is about 3,000.
I spent three days in Pungeşti, June 11-13, talking with villagers, visiting their homes and fields, and observing the situation there. During this time, it became clear to me that Romania’s gendarmerie (military police), are being used as a security force for a private U.S. company, Chevron.
Throughout my three-day visit, gendarmes were ever-present at the gated access road leading to the well pad. On the evening of June 11, I witnessed gendarmes close the public highway near the drill rig, thus restricting free travel of villagers in their own community. I also saw villagers brutalized by gendarmes who released some kind of spray at point-blank range into the faces of people who, insisting on their right to walk freely down the main public road of their community, attempted to remove the fence that prevented their passage. Those affected by the spray included young children and elderly people. Here follows a detailed account of events.
Shortly after 7 pm, on June 11, at an outdoor gathering, I gave a presentation on the scientific evidence for the health and environmental impacts of fracking to an audience about 100 villagers in Siliştea. As men returned from working in their fields, more people joined the crowd. Two members of the human rights organization Romania Without Them assisted with translation (www.stopfracturare.ro). The mood was welcoming, although villagers also expressed anger that their opposition to shale gas drilling in their community had been forcibly put down in December.
My speech took place on a platform that had been erected in the side yard of a small house located nearest the drill rig. This house and its surrounding fencing were festooned with anti-fracking and anti-Chevron signs and banners. Translators told me that it had been rented for a small price to anti-fracking activists after their December 7 eviction from the nearby tent camps. Referred as the “House of Resistance,” this building serves as the headquarters for local anti-fracking organizing.
The din of the drill rig, located 650 meters away, across an open field, was audible throughout—and indeed never ceased during my three-day visit to the area.
People in my audience asked many questions—some shouted out to me during my presentation—and shared with me observations and concerns during the Q and A that followed. These included reports of headaches and feelings of general sickness since the drilling began, along with reports of odors coming from the well site. One woman reported that she had recently witnessed black smoke coming from the well site while walking with her cows in a pastured area on the hill above the drill rig. Many people expressed fear of water contamination and concern that their children will have no future in Pungeşti.
Referring to the stress-inducing noise of the drill rig, one woman said that she and her family could feel relentless sound coming through the ground itself and into their home: “There is no more silence in Pungeşti.”
Villagers said that the trucks servicing the Chevron site most often came after dark and drove dangerously fast. (I also witnessed this directly.)
I heard many complaints about abuse of authority, including the mayor. Two people independently told me that villagers had initiated a referendum to remove the mayor from office because of his role in the transfer of public land to Chevron with the complicity of other governmental officials at a higher level. However, attempts to file the referendum had been blocked. I was told that this kind of thwarting of a public procedure had never before occurred.
I heard many complaints from anti-fracking leaders about the secrecy of Chevron’s plans, including the source of the water used to mix the drilling muds.
By far, the most common complaint concerned the behavior of the gendarmes who guarded the well site and who had created a “special security zone” in the village.
Since the arrival of Chevron, according to villagers, the gendarmes have established a permanent presence in the community. As a result, people are prevented from moving freely or traveling from one village to the next. Villagers estimated that about 300 gendarmes were stationed in Pungeşti last fall. This number swelled to about 500 during early December when villagers and their supporters were forcibly evicted from their protest camp. Since then, I was told, about 30 gendarmes had a 24-hour presence in the village and periodically closed the single road into and out of the village with fencing, allowing no passage except for Chevron trucks and local traffic driving away from the drill rig.
Throughout my three-day visit, I heard many stories of police beatings, including one by a 15-year-old boy.
I was asked if violence against anti-shale gas protesters also occurred in the United States. Villagers asked me what they should do in response to the violence by the gendarmes. I was asked if there were places in the United States where people had successfully stopped shale gas fracking and, if so, how had they accomplished such a delay.
After my presentation, audience members began to chant slogans against Chevron and shale gas and invited me to accompany them on an impromptu march to the drill site. Many children, including one as young as two or three, walked with us, along with numerous elderly men and men. An elderly woman took my hand as we walked. The mood was energetic and joyful, albeit defiant.
As we continued walking, about 30 military police dressed in black uniforms that identified them as gendarmes appeared on the road ahead of us, pulled fencing across the road, and formed a tight line behind the fence.
As we approached the opposing line of gendarmes, the mood became increasingly tense. Protesters waved fists and shouted and chanted more loudly. These chants were translated for me as, “Gendarmes defend the thieves!” and “Stop Chevron!” The villagers asked to pass. Gendarmes closed ranks but did not respond verbally.
On the far right edge, a scuffle broke out as villagers attempted to grab and remove the fencing from the road. A tug of war between gendarmes and villagers followed, with each side holding and pulling the fencing.
I then saw a gendarme at the far end of the line point and spray a canister in the faces of protesters directly in front of him. Some people immediately doubled over. I saw people retching, screaming, coughing, and wheezing. The mood among villagers now changed to fear and what seemed to me a kind of stunned disbelief. Many marchers began to retreat, and the tug of war over the fencing ceased.
At this point, my 12-year-old son and I walked quickly back down the road in an attempt to move upwind from the dissipating spray. Our throats and eyes became sore and irritated and remained so for the rest of the evening, although we were not otherwise badly affected or disabled.
From a safe position a few hundred feet away from the fence, I turned to watch others run by. I saw elderly people gasping and crying. I saw children clutching their throats, coughing, and retching.
Altogether, the conflict at the fence line lasted 15 or 20 minutes
Throughout my three-day visit, local police and military police cars followed the car in which I was riding, as I traveled within Pungeşti and to and from our hotel in nearby Vaslui.
On the second day, one villager showed me cracks in the walls and ceilings of a nearby “traditional” home, which was constructed from clay and straw bricks. I was told that the cracks had formed soon after the roads filled with heavy trucks and equipment for well construction.
Many homes are located only a few feet from the main road. An overturned fracking truck would easily crush them.
National Highway 2F, which connects the villages of Pungeşti to the nearest sizable city of Vaslui, is the sole road into and out of the area. It is a curving, narrow, two-lane highway without continuous shoulders. The road is used by many kinds of vehicles, including especially horse-drawn carts.
Because of the lack of a shoulder, horse carts frequently stop in the middle of the road, which requires vehicle traffic to swerve into the oncoming lane. Horse carts in Pungeşti do not bear reflective signage and are very difficult to see in the dark.
On the night of a full moon, I saw many horse carts loaded with hay still traveling the highway long after the sun had set.
This same road is also shared by pedestrians, bicyclists, dogs, and cattle, which were typically led by children or elderly people.
This same road is the only possible route for the fracking related trucks and for the transportation of drilling- and fracking-related chemicals, water, and equipment.
Not only houses but also drinking water wells, troughs for watering livestock and horses, and the piped taps of artesian springs are all located just a few feet from the edge of the highway. These water sources are as are shared communally by numerous families. The homes that I visited were not served by running water. Instead, women and children carrying buckets walked along Highway 2F to fetch water from to the nearest well. This well water was used for all household needs: drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing.
I asked to see three drinking water wells along the highway. All were lined with brick or cement, and the well diameter ranged from one to three feet. When not in use, water wells are covered with wooden lids. The surface of the water is located about 10 meters below ground level. Several people boasted to me about the sweet taste of the well water in this region and expressed grave concern for its safety, not only from drilling-related chemical contamination but also from the impact of vibrations from truck traffic, as the distance between the road and the wells is just a few feet.
It was clear to me that any accident involving a spill from a truck hauling hazardous materials could easily contaminate these wide-mouthed wells, which are topped only by small wooden roofs to allow those fetching water to stand out of the sun or rain.
The artesian springs attract local commuters who stop to fill bottles and jugs. There are no pull-off areas, so cars simply parked on the highway while water was gathered. These springs are also used to water livestock. One such spring—located within a half-mile of the Chevron drill rig—is tapped to fill a stone trough where cattle and horses are brought to drink.
On one occasion, the car in which I was traveling was forced to stop in the middle of the highway for several minutes in order to yield to a large herd of oncoming cattle.
According to villagers, cattle drink from rivers and streams when they are pastured during the summer months. In the winter, cattle stay inside and drink groundwater.
In Pungeşti, agriculture is practiced largely by hand labor and horse-drawn plow. Small, tillable fields of corn, beans, sunflowers, hay, and winter wheat alternate with pastures to create a patchworked landscape. During my visit, farmers and their families worked to weed and thin corn, some of which was interplanted with beans.
I was told that fresh milk that comes from cattle is available year round. Milk from sheep and goats is used for cheese. Many front yards are planted with grapevines and apple trees. Both wine and bread are made locally and with local ingredients. Farmers are proudly self-sufficient. One told me that he was proud to be an organic farmer who uses no chemicals.
This same farmer expressed concern to me about possible chemical contamination of his crops and milk as a result of fracking and the possible loss of his markets. He asked me if U.S. farmers who live near drilling rigs have problems selling their products. He told me that he has heard that some buyers, as a result of the drilling activity, are already shunning crops from Pungeşti.
Another farmer told me, with sadness, “We waited 50 years for the Americans to arrive, and they brought Chevron.”
More information on Dr Steingraber’s visit and her lectures on public health and fracking in Europe:
Watch the video clip from EU Green Week, New Environmentalism Summit Part I
Read remarks from the EU Green week, Environmentalism Summit. “A New Environmentalism for an Unfractured Future.”
Read her Op-ed in Euractiv– “Fracking is a public health disaster. The US and Europe should say ’No!’ ”
(Please scroll down to the interview nr. 4 in the playlist of the youtube chanell of Epoch Times Romania, located in the upper left corner of the screen)
Sandra Steingraber visited Romania last week and was impressed by the resistance there. Furthermore, she saw water bubbling in the water wells along the road leading to the rig and cracks in the houses and a terrible unceassing noise.
Her conclusion is that in Pungesti and in Romania, the democratic process has been fractured in the name of energy security, but an energy security that is definitely not going to serve to the very ecologically leaving community in Pungesti, nor to Romania, who is already producing 130% of its gas needs.
She is also telling the story of the episode she has experienced there when she wanted to go to the rig, together with the villagers in Pungesti, yet they were prevented by the riot police defending the site, who has blocked the road with fences. When the people tried to pull away the fences and proceed to the rig, the riot police used tear gas.
Furthermore, the activists in the area organised a meeting inviting officials in the county, mayors, the president of the County Council (a very vocal Chevron lobby-ist) to listen to Sandra Steingraber’s on the fracking imacts. Even though they first accepted the invitation, none of them showed up at the meeting.
Another sign of how any serious talk about fracking is being blocked was the fact that the 15 minutes interview with Sandra Steingraber, due on Friday, 13th of June, upon her arrival from Pungesti, with a central television, was in the end turned into a 2 minutes minor news. This was short notice change and it came from a television who previously presented a lot of information against fracking, made huge audience on the subject and then, out of a sudden, pulled back from the subject in a very strange way.
Earlier las week, Sandra Steingraber met with a few members of the Romanian Parliament (from a small party and a independent member of the Parliament, Remus Cernea) and with the activists in Bucharest.
Sandra Steingraber week in Romania has been very honouring and inspiring for our fight and surely very informing for her. Earlier las week, Sandra Steingraber met with a few members of the Romanian Parliament (from a small party and a independent member of the Parliament, Remus Cernea) and with the activists in Bucharest.
The fight must carry on!
No fracking here, no fracking anywhere!
Sandra Steingraber, the co-founder of New Yorkers against Fracking visited Pungesti yesterday and she had the “chance” to see how the Romanian riot police is working…for the benefit of the local community. After having visited the Romanian Parliament, where she presented some key facts regarding the tremendous impacts of fracking in the USA, followed by a meeting with the fracktivists in Bucharest, she went straight to Pungesti, where she wanted to meet the villagers, for whose sufferings she wanted to appologise, as an American, just like the Company that is causing so many problems in Pungesti, Chevron. Here is an excerpt of an article in the local newspaper, Vremea Noua, from last night, after the situation turned very heated after the police blocked the road (a public road), and the people wanted to remove the fence from the road. Even though it was a regrettable situation (Sandra was not involved in the fight, she was some 20 meters behind where it all happened), Sandra Steingrabber and her colleagues could get an idea of the tense situation and the deprivations the community in Pungesti has gone through during the past months.
“The situation in Pungesti where the first drilling rig was installed for exploration and exploitation of shale gas was tense again. Tonight in the village was present Dr. Sandra Steingraber from U.S.A. She has presented a brief history of villagers’ unhappy experiences with shale gas extraction based on the method of hydraulic fracturing. After consulting with the villagers, the American biologist concluded that what happened in the U.S. happens in Romania: Chevron receiving servility from politicians and carrying out economic purposes despite the fact that this activity is bad for locals. After this meeting, Dr. Sandra Steingraber wanted to go to the area where the drilling rig is installed. At that time, the police blocked the road with fences. Approximately 50 villagers who were in the area tried to cross the fences but the “brave” riot policemen used tear gas in response, against villagers, mostly women and elderly!”
More pictures to be seen in the article
In the film you can see the riot police using tear gas.
21th of May, International Anti Chevron Day. Bucharest actions.
On the 21st of May, Romania joined the woldwide protests the disasters Chevron has caused all over the world where they have oil and gas operations, but also against its undemocratic, repressive means undermining the basics of democracy. The action was coordinated by the committee in Ecuador who has helped the 30.000 Ecuadorian peasants in their apparently never-ending fight against Chevron.
In Romania, we had protests organised in 4 locations, 2 of them in perimeters concerned by Chevron fracking operations, such as Pungesti and Mangalia, and Bucharest, the capital city, and another socially very active city in Transilvania, Sibiu.
The event in Bucharest focused on two types of actions:
one documented in the pictures, having a strong awareness raising dimension, by means of impactful images of the diasasters Chevron left all over the world. We had 30 series of 11 stickers with images placed in 30 bus stations in Bucharest.
The second action was a flash mob that was played in 2 locations in Bucharest, focusing on the “cosy” relationship politicians have with Chevron and “strategic investors”, in general.
Here is the link with the English subtitles.