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Opinion

Bad decision

Author: James Warlick Date: Fri, Feb 03 2012 8 Comments, 3763 Views
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Last week Bulgaria made a decision on shale gas development that may have a profoundly negative effect on the future of its energy supply, investment climate, and economy.

A full, informed, and public debate should have weighed the relative risks, cost and environmental impact of each energy source. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with shale gas. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," technology, used to exploit the gas in shale formations, has changed the energy supply equation in the US. As a result of this technology, the gas market in US has dramatically changed, with increased domestic supply and lower fuel prices. With their development of shale gas resources, Poland and neighbouring Romania may also soon take greater steps towards achieving energy independence.

Regarding the risks, there is no question that safeguards to protect the environment and public safety must be tough, effective, and long-term. But a sincere concern for stewardship of the natural environment should not stymie exploration. This is especially true in Bulgaria, where certain groups have a vested interest in maintaining dependence on costly imported energy.

Parliament’s approval of an indefinite ban on hydraulic fracturing could unfortunately also deprive the public of even knowing whether Bulgaria has the potential for a commercially viable, long-term domestic energy supply. Surely, the development of a new energy source that could potentially bring lower gas prices, jobs, revenue to the national and municipal governments, and foreign investment is worth studying.

Exploration for shale resources requires many initial steps that do not include hydraulic fracturing. The timetable to begin actual development and exploitation of the gas provides sufficient time in advance for the public discussion and regulatory development that Bulgaria needs. Regrettably, the recent decision by Parliament deprives Bulgaria of the opportunity not only to build the strong oversight needed to manage shale gas development, but also of knowing whether you can achieve greater energy independence. The Bulgarian leadership owes the public a thorough investigation of this potential resource.

A young Bulgarian activist told me recently that, "We may be sitting on a gold mine and calling ourselves poor." The absence of a broad debate, involving scientists, government officials, environmentalists and consumers, has resulted in a vacuum of information about the pros and cons needed to decide on whether that potential gold can be mined.

James Warlick is the US ambassador to Bulgaria. This op-ed first appeared on the website of the US embassy in Sofia on January 27.

  • Profile preview
    marissa13 Rating: 5
    neutral
    #8 20, 11, Wed, Mar 21 2012

    Yes, I agree that this is a bad decision by the BG government. It only encourages oil dependency on Russia & the Middle East.

    Environmentally, study after study in the State has proven this is a safe method of extracting oil. It would be much better if the environmentalists here concentrated on some very real problems: 1) Lead. Lead is one of the most poisonous substances know. Yet, even though in American, it has been illegal to use it in gasoline since the mid-1970s. However, Bulgaria goes on using this poison in fuel which causes severe [...]

    Read the full comment health problems & even brain damage in children. Ban it! 2) Use of wood for heat. In Stara Zagora, a 40 year old forest recently disappeared due to illegal cutting of wood. Wood burning stoves cause bad air pollution, bronchitus & asthma. Curbe it! 3) Coal burning. Coal also pollutes. Just go into any village in the winter & the smell of coal burning heaters is overpowering. Again, this causes great air polluting, lung diseases & ruins interior painting of homes. Sadly, environmentalists here have strained out the gnat & swallowed the elephant. But even in the States we have foolish environmentalists. For instance, in California, the federal gov't has refused to release water for farming in order to save a small 2 inch long fish called the Delta Smelt. Thousands of people have lost jobs over this & thousands of acres of farmland are now dead. Just check it out on I-5 from Tracy to Los Angeles. However, that said, perhaps in the future when petrol costs 7-9 leva a liter, the gov't will look back & thing, "Boy, did we screw up!"

  • Profile preview
    bobkeep Rating: 5
    neutral
    #7 14, 56, Sat, Feb 18 2012

    Mr Menzies - would you comments have anything to do with your own business interests, rather than the interests of Bulgaria and its (still developing) democracy? And why are you casting aspersions on Kylej's voting practice? I think Kylej makes a strong argument about the risks of fracking and its controversial nature in the US, and agree with Andybulgaria that it is not the place of the American Ambassador to comment on such democratically reached decisions, just because they do not meet his own political (and possibly economic) viewpoint or interests. A very unwise decision to express his views in [...]

    Read the full comment this way - and potentially very harmful to US - Bulgarian relations.

  • Profile preview
    andybulgaria Rating: 8
    neutral
    #6 18, 17, Wed, Feb 08 2012

    the Parliaments decision does not prevent further research into the implications of fracking ? and it can be reversed, as and when, the public and parliament can be convinced the benefits are properly understood, and the impacts reduced. it is a precautionary measure, and not binding on future parliaments.

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    John C Menzies Rating: 8
    neutral
    #5 12, 00, Mon, Feb 06 2012

    Kylej, Bulgaria is a democracy, with all of the institutions of a democracr. To simply deny economic development because you dont believe that the functions of the democracy are not entirely functional is misguided. Democracy is a path not a destination - its a process not a goal. Did YOU vote?

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    andybulgaria Rating: 8
    neutral
    #4 17, 06, Sat, Feb 04 2012

    is it the role of an american ambassador to so publicy criticise a decision of the Bulgarian Parliament ? (behind closed doors of course, yes, but so openly ?)Or did i miss something....polite answers on a post card please....I am not an expert in this field, though I have a MSc in environmental assessment and am aware that these decisions involve as many political as technical considerations.

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    kylej Rating: 8
    neutral
    #3 20, 39, Fri, Feb 03 2012

    Anf John, if you sincerely believe that the BG government will pass on cost savings to Bulgarian consumers you obviously do not know the country well enough. Prices will still rise, but the government and big US business will have higher profit margins. It is the will of the shareholders

  • Profile preview
    kylej Rating: 8
    neutral
    #2 20, 37, Fri, Feb 03 2012

    Is this why Fracking in the US is under investigation for envoirenmental pollution, cancers and sicknesses with local residents, poisoning of water supplies and some fracking has been stopped. Unfortunately Fracking in BG will happen as there is to much money at stake both for the BG government and the US oil companies. Never mind the proven envoirenmental impact, the water poisoning, the human casualties, and the long term cancers. Big money, large corporates, crooked politicians, US lobbying and government income will win through, it always does at whatever cost to people.....Personally I think this is financial posturing by the [...]

    Read the full comment BG government to ensure more personal wealth for some people. One day it will all come out, until then, god save anyone living near a fracking rig.

  • Profile preview
    John C Menzies Rating: 8
    neutral
    #1 12, 18, Fri, Feb 03 2012

    Well written and considered OpEd. This poorly considered ban on fracking - will likely impede conventional oil and gas exploration in Bulgaria. This cold spell in SE Europe will be sending domestic power bills up. If there was ever a time when Bulgarians need less expensive energy its right now.

    However with this legislation Bulgaria will never get the opportunity to determine if it can satisfy its own energy needs.

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