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Czechs Protest Shale Gas Exploration

PRAGUE, Czech Republic

Czech Environment Minister Tomas Chalupa has said he will propose a moratorium on shale gas exploration for up to two years until clear rules for the sector are established. Today's Prague Post reports that  this was in response to a 50,000 strong petition from Czechs concerned about the environmental impact of drilling, along with criticism of several regional governors, 

Protesters have taken to the country's streets over the past few weeks in opposition to the government’s plans to survey underground layers of shale gas and possibly start extracting it.

Demonstrators have cited environmental concerns as the main source of their objections to these projects.

The exploration would start near the towns of Náchod and Trutnov. Lubomír Franc, head of the East Bohemia region where both towns are located, said at a meeting of officials from surrounding villages that shale gas exploration could pose a serious threat to drinking water supplies and water quality, because in the course of the hydraulic fracturing process, water, sand and chemical substances would be pumped into a borehole several kilometers below ground.  

Basgas Energia Czech (part of Hutton Energy, an Australian company with headquarters in Great Britain), which would carry out the exploration in East Bohemia, is trying to dispel any worries.

Each borehole must first be inspected by the local water distribution authority, company representative Pavel Lhotsky said during meetings with mayors and other officials from the areas in question.

Lhotsky insisted that drinking water could not in any way be damaged because its sources are no more than 500 meters underground, while shale gas deposits are located much deeper, at 1.5 kilometers underground, and the holes are covered by multiple layers of cement and steel.

He claimed that in United States, shale gas has been extracted with the help of hydraulic fracturing technology for 10 years now without a single instance of groundwater contamination.

He said the chemicals that would be pumped into the boreholes were mostly substances such as salt or citric acid.

Hutton Energy Executive Director David Messina, who was also present at the meeting, insisted his company is fully aware of the location of the water resources in the region where it hoped to drill. He said his company would organize discussion forums with members of the public every three months.

The situation is different in neighboring Poland, where the government plans to give the go-ahead for gas exploitation from shale, saying this would help it end the country’s energy dependence on Russia.