The topic of shale gas extraction was relevant 10 years ago. In the period 2010-2011, seven applications were submitted to the Ministry of Energy for the search and exploration of oil and gas by two foreign companies – “Chevron Bulgaria Holding”, with a declared interest in two areas in North-Eastern Bulgaria, and “Integrity Towers Inc”. , with an application for a total of five areas, four of which are again in North-Eastern Bulgaria.
In 2012, the National Assembly imposed an indefinite moratorium on the exploration and extraction of shale gas and oil using the fracking technology for the whole of Bulgaria and our Black Sea water area. But the text of this document turned out to be written in such a way that it practically blocked exploration for conventional gas and oil for the entire land territory of the country.
The act of Parliament was the result of protests by green organizations, opponents of gas and oil extraction in Bulgaria. The actions of the National Assembly at that time deprived the country of its own mining and the much-needed diversification for the next decade. In this way, Bulgaria was placed in a situation of 100 percent dependence on external supplies, regardless of whether they are from Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey or another supplier. After that, interest logically declines.
Against the background of the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis, the topic of shale gas in Dobrudja came up again. On Wednesday, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue at a KRIB forum in Sofia, which caused reactions from politicians and members of the public.
A new dose of calls for mining and a new serious resistance poured into the public space in recent days. Experts also weighed in on the topic.
At the moment, the idea of shale gas extraction is not feasible because there is a moratorium with a 2012 parliamentary decision, which prohibits the exploration of conventional deposits of natural gas and oil. But with a potential lifting of this moratorium, it is technically possible to carry out such exploration and extraction, since the technology is much better developed than 10 years ago”, said energy expert Martin Vladimirov from the Center for the Study of Democracy to Economic.bg ( CID).
According to him, currently the costs of exploration and production are significant, but in no way comparable to those in the US, due to a number of regulatory and geophysical reasons.
“Our calculations show that the potential cost of developing and extracting gas, for example, in the largest field in Dobrudja, would be within 30 euros per megawatt hour, which is 8 times lower in cost than the price of natural gas on the European markets at the moment”, Vladimirov also said.
According to him, because former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo no longer works for the US administration, he did not make this statement based on any US state policy. However, it is part of the long-term US strategy to help European countries improve their energy security based on the diversification of imported energy sources. Among their priorities is the development of the local potential for energy production from various sources.
Pompeo’s statement is in no way different from the general policy of the United States to promote sources of natural gas that improve Europe’s energy security and reduce malign foreign influence – Russia, China or some of the countries of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea.” , claims Martin Vladimirov.
Helpful or harmful idea?
The energy expert claims that all energy security policies that make us more independent and reduce the country’s risks of energy poverty are beneficial.
Let’s not forget that the countries that produce their own energy sources also pay a much lower price for this,” emphasized Vladimirov.
According to him, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century and the beginning of the second, there was a huge amount of optimism that the shale revolution in the United States could be carried around the world.
“Russia played a key role in sabotaging the initiation of this technological process. It is very complex, requires conscious and long-term planning, as well as commitment on the part of governments”, added the energy expert.
“At the time when shale gas was being talked about, it was quite expensive, against the background of prices on the market in Europe. Therefore, many politicians on the Old Continent decided that it was rather unreasonable to go in that direction at that stage,” explained Vladimirov.
He emphasized that we currently live in an absolutely changed world, in which the risks for natural gas supplies are terribly high, and the price paid by all European consumers is excessive. Therefore, according to him, it is most reasonable for countries in Europe to look within themselves and to study what can be achieved with a local resource.
It is not only about Bulgaria, Romania is extremely rich in resources. Poland probably has the most shale gas underground, so does Germany. All countries that over the years have been victims of the malicious Russian influence, which uses energy supplies as a weapon for political pressure and changing the strategic course of prices,” said the energy expert.
“We already live in a world where it is obvious that Europe strategically needs to break away from its dependence on Russia in all directions. The development of local industries, in which Russia actually dominates, would help this strategic process of economic and political separation from Russia,” he added.
However, according to him, we should not limit ourselves to shale gas – Bulgaria should take advantage of all local energy sources, because they make our economy more competitive and provide a basis for long-term economic development.
This includes the development of offshore wind in the Black Sea, unlocking our enormous potential for photovoltaic electricity. There, the investments pay off after a few years, but this is also a matter of improving the regulatory framework – removing administrative obstacles and reducing corruption in the sector,” added Vladimirov.
He emphasized that it is important that private investments can be carried out, apart from state ones.
“This is not about state support, subsidies or any kind of preferential treatment. Administrative hurdles simply need to be eased so that companies have the certainty that a long-term investment or an industrial process within a decade – such as for shale gas – can have predictability,” he said.
“Accordingly, the profit should then be fairly and equitably distributed among the various interested parties”, added the energy expert.
According to Vladimirov, farmers would also have a serious interest in such studies. The state will receive huge tax revenues, and all energy users will receive a “tax credit” in the form of lower prices.
In the long term, our reserves are calculated at half a trillion cubic meters of gas, which will practically provide us for the next century and turn us into a regional gas exporter”, Vladimirov is categorical.
“Just like Romania, which is also preparing to become one of the major suppliers of energy resources for the whole of Central and Southeastern Europe,” said the energy expert.
Resistance to shale gas in the Granary
Former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov categorically opposed “hydraulic fracturing in Bulgaria’s Granary” in his interview on bTV.
We from the BSP are in favor of developing our own energy sources in the Black Sea and categorically against drilling for shale gas in the land of golden Dobrudja,” Kornelia Ninova wrote on her Facebook profile.
According to Martin Vladimirov, these statements are dictated by political calculations and the desire of political leaders to be more attractive to that part of Bulgarian society, which for decades has been irradiated with Russian propaganda, which instills fear of the development of shale gas, with frank fictional facts about the environmental feasibility of such a project.
“Until now, there is no serious scientific article in the world that shows that the extraction of shale gas causes natural cataclysms. All the fake news about the fact that almost in the regions where shale gas is developed, the water burns, is polluted, there are earthquakes, etc., are seriously exaggerated”, Vladimirov is categorical.
He explained that huge areas are being explored in the US and shale gas is being produced in them, and the consequences for the local community are, in practice, marginal.
“Yes, there can be slight earthquakes, with any extraction – conventional or unconventional – there are changes in the strata. But similar consequences can occur even in the development of a stone quarry. I.e. the industrial process of exploration and production of shale gas is in no way different from the already existing industrial processes in the mining-geological segment”, said the energy expert.
Martin Vladimirov said that the shale gas extraction technology dates back to 1920, and in the development of the Chiren gas deposit, fracking technology was also used, which is not new. What is new is the price and research costs, which are many times lower than 50-60 years ago.
“And above all, the revolution that American engineers caused with the invention of horizontal shale gas extraction, with which it is possible to reach the most complex layers of the earth, where it is most difficult to unlock the gas, which is located in rocks with many low permeability,” he explained.
There is science, so it is good that decisions at the national level are based on facts and data, on scientific research, and not on false fears, from which certain oligarchic groups in the country with close relations actually profit”, Vladimirov believes.
Shale gas production in light of the Green Deal
According to Vladimirov, the European Green Deal does not exclude the role of natural gas in the energy transition. However, according to him, we need to be aware that in the long term gas will play a smaller and smaller role in the energy mix if we want to achieve climate neutrality.
However, this does not mean that in this transitional period we cannot use our local resources. For example, to replace coal-fired power plants, which are the main obstacle to the decarbonization of the Bulgarian economy, and to sell this raw material in the region,” said the energy expert.
“The demand for natural gas is not very sustainable, because it will gradually decrease, but in this transitional period, Bulgaria can take advantage of enormous wealth and energy security to be able to carry out the more complex restructuring of our economy until 2050.” he concluded.