De ce trag clopotele, Chevronică? – For Whom the Bell Tolls: For Chevron

by Elena Rastei

One of the guys who were holding a huge banner in front of the mayor’s office with the message ”Chevron is the worst American dream. Wake up people!”, suddenly shouted from the bottom of his lungs: NEXT TIME, we won’t come here with flags, but with GUNS!”. Around him people smile in approval. Almost 8000 gathered in a peaceful action in order to make their voice heard.

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The fire in our hearts made the trip from Iasi to Birlad much shorter than we imagined. The driver, a man who just a few months ago was conquering one of the highest mountain tops in the world, was now conquering the road towards something bigger, the wakening of the civic spirit.

As we entered the city, the air changed. Sunny day. Hearts beating faster. It felt as if we fully immersed in another historical period. Bells were tolling continuously. The churches were calling the people to the liturgy against fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a controversial form of natural gas extraction, is the process of pumping water combined with almost 600 chemicals underground to fracture rocks and release shall gas. A few minutes later my feet hit the ground and while watching the endless crowd heading towards us, the only words I manage to draw in haste on the blank banner in my hand were: CHEVRON, GO HOME!

The U.S. energy company Chevron has obtained concessions in Romania, covering a combined area of 870,000 hectares, in the Eastern plains of the Moldavia region, the Northwest area and the Black Sea coastal region -Vama Veche, Adamclisi and Costineşti. The approvals were obtained without any proper legislation nor regulations to back up the technical conditions for the exploration-exploitation activities in order to avoid the seismic, environmental and water pollution risks. The corporation announced its plans for exploration in Birlad in the second part of the year 2013. Moreover, seismic studies have also been announced as in progress for the coastal region.

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Barlad was sold, back in 2004, by the prime minister Adrian Nastase. Today, Chevron is promising energetic independence and jobs over the 25 year long project, while having the freedom to export the shall gas anywhere in the world. The price Romanians will pay for each cubic meter of gas purchased from Chevron is unknown. Contracts between Chevron and the authorities have been classified as secret.

According to the World Factbook 1, Romania is importing annually 2,290,000,000 m3 of natural gas, 43 times less compared to Germany-99,630,000,000; 20 times less the amount imported by France- 46,200,000,000 and a bit lower then our Bulgarian neighbors, who are importing 2,480,000,000 m3 of natural gas. Both France and Bulgaria banned fracking on counts of health and environmental risks.

A sea of people are covering the street. We scan the crowd in search for our group of friends who left Iasi earlier by train until we spot one of their banners ”We don’t drink money. We don’t drink gas” and join them. As we fill in the big crowd, I turn back, curios to check its borders. While turning, the bold confidence in the girl’s eyes struck me. One look in all eyes, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, marching in the streets for the justice of their cause. One tear followed another. The old lady walking on my side is here for her children and grandchildren ”I’m 75 and I’ll be gone soon, but if CHEVRON stays, my children will suffer the consequences of my passivity. So, I chose to take a stand. God is with us!”

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An orange van with megaphone voicing various messages leads the people to the Communal Palace of Birlad. We occupy the central area blocking all entrances. The mayor who, before elections, was in the front row, leading the first protest, was now nowhere to be seen. At one point, I spot a banner depicting the deputy of Barlad, Adrian Solomon, allegorically in a love relationship with Chevron ”Solomon, you betrayed us!”. A strong voice shouts through a megaphone ”Hello Birlad. Romania, wake up!” The crowd cheers.

False promises in change for electoral support is common practice. It also happened in the case of the prime-minister Victor Ponta, who changed sides radically from strong opponent to enthusiastic supporter once installed in the ministerial chair. Industry lobbyists have been selling fracking to the government and businesses as a ”green” alternative to renewables since 2000, despite the lack of research on the matter or the health and environmental impacts documented by various reports.

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”Thieves!”, ”Liars!” shouts the crowd. ”Only the pressure of the streets can make the government listen to our voice and say NO to fracking. Is this a subversive action? Do you want the -For Sale- sign on every home? And when we’ll want to sell, who’s going to buy a place surrounded by death? STOP and think of your children!” A proclamation is being voiced, while the stage is taken by organizers and representatives from Dobrogea, Bucharest, a child and an old man, all with their own messages for the government. A representative from Costinesti, the first city in EU that refused fraking in a referendum, warns that ”Water poisons the whole country even if your county is not targeted by Chevron”, stirring up the crowd.

”Water is all that we have left CLEAN!” is neatly written on a banner bellow a pair of sad eyes. ”Chevron is going to use 2 billion cubic meters of free water, meanwhile we are paying for every drop” shouts another. According to one US campaign2, the water brought in is mixed with sand and chemicals to create fracking fluid. Up to 600 chemicals are used in fracking fluid, including known carcinogens and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde. The complete list of all the chemicals is considered a commercial secret and hasn’t been made public.

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The fracking fluid is then pressure injected into the ground through a drilled pipeline. The mixture reaches the end of the well where the high pressure causes the nearby shale rock to crack, creating fissures where natural gas flows into the well. During this process, methane gas and toxic chemicals leach out from the system and contaminate nearby groundwater. Only 30-50% of the fracturing fluid is recovered, the rest of the toxic fluid is left in the ground and is not biodegradable. The waste fluid is left in open air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone. In US, there have been over 1,000 documented cases of water contamination next to areas of gas drilling as well as cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water.

On my left a group of 7-8 years old children make their presence noticed. ”We are here to protect our land!” says Robert with a red whistle around his neck, while Florin, Ana and Eduardo were holding banners. We start moving towards the end of the protest. Above the street, in full view, a big banner was announcing ”28th February, the day of the Civil Protection” organized by the Municipality of Barlad. According to the organizers no local politician was present during the protest. However, people from Constanta, Cluj Napoca, Buzau, Bihor, Galati, Hunedoara, Iasi, Timisoara, Vrancea and Bucharest march along in one heart, under the sun of Barlad.

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The event starts and ends with the prayer ”Holly Father”. People are repeating in choir. The role of the orthodox clergy was vital. People mainly learned about the dangers of fracking in their churches. One of the main organizers, Fr. Vasile Laiu, understood his role within the community and stood up, in this time of hardship, leading his people. He knows that at the end of our lives we shall be judged not only by our own deeds, but also for what we could have done right but didn’t do, and for what others did wrong because of us.

The war over the right to a clean environment continues as does the war over energy security. The next event is being announced in several locations across the country, on the 4th of April. This is the fourth protest organized by the Group of Initiative for the Civil Society of Barlad(Grupul de Initiativa al Societatii Civile (GISC) Barladene), formed by experts in geology, chemistry and attorneys, priests, environmental activists in collaboration with the non-governmental organization VIRA. After researching the issue, they concluded that the risk overcomes the benefits.

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The national media, which missed one of the biggest social gatherings in Romanian history of the last two decades, argued that Russia is trying to undermine the potential energy independence of Romania by financing the environmental organizations in their fight to stop Chevron. According to official statistics, Romania imports less than a third of its energetic demand.

The people are determined to continue the protest until fracking will be banned in Romania as well, as it happened in Bulgaria, France and some of the states of the US. Several city councils in Vaslui county (Gherghesti, Iana, Bãcani, Tutova, Pochidia si Pungesti) already banned fracking at the request of their citizens.

Today, in Barlad, the bell tolls for Chevron.

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1https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2182rank.html
2http://www.dangersoffracking.com

Posted by at 03/03/2013
Filed in category: Buerger & Rechte, Natur & Schutz, Politik & Wirtschaft, and tagged with: , , ,

One Response to De ce trag clopotele, Chevronică? – For Whom the Bell Tolls: For Chevron

  1. Meda says:

    A beautiful description of people’s sense of community, in a country where national television dared lying about how many were in the streets, showing less than one minute of this important event.

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