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.