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Can Bulgaria Frack Its Way to Energy Independence?

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Can Bulgaria frack its way to energy independence? | | Term Paper | Class: “BUSINESS & SOCIETY”, Prof. Akbar | | Radostina Rubenstein | 3/23/2014 | |

Contents: Intro 3 Shale Gas in Bulgaria 3 Overview 4 Mounting concern as production rises 5 Water Supplies 5 Surface impacts 6 Land 6 Water 6 Noise 7 Frack Quakes 8 Social acceptance 8 FRACKING IN BULGARIA 8 IS THERE A BUBBLE IN THE SHALE GAS INDUSTRY? 10 Diminishing returns 11 The drilling treadmill 11 Unsustainable prices 11 A shale bubble 11 Regulate or Ban? Movement Divisions 12 Bibliography: 13


In the beginning of 2009, South-East Europe suffered several external shocks: an extended period of cold weather, disruption in natural gas supplies from the Russian federation and financial crisis.
The disruption of natural gas supply from the Russian Federation was particularly devastating for all countries with gas infrastructure. The region is supplied with natural gas from Russia by three different itineraries and three sub-regions are served by three different sets of gas infrastructure (see Appendix 1).
Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and FYROM are supplied by a system of transit pipelines from Ukraine. Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are supplied from Ukraine via Hungary, while Croatia is supplied via Austria and Slovenia. These three supply systems are not connected which in itself presents a problem.
With nearly 98% gas import dependency, however, Bulgaria’s biggest issue is that all the its complete dependence on Russian gas and oil. While it is debatable, whether this issue has more internal, or foreign policy dimensions, the solutions, some suggest, is quite simple.

Shale Gas in Bulgaria
According to a study, conducted by the US Energy Information Administrations, Bulgaria’s shale gas resources are estimated at 17 trillion cubic feet (which is approximately 500 billion cubic meters), and its shale oil resources – at 200 million barrels. These shale gas reserves are enough to support the country’s needs for over a hundred years. Could this be the key to Bulgaria’s energy independence and development of a whole new industry for high skilled and high paid workers? What price would we pay for it?


The shale gas is no different than conventionally extracted gas, but it is situated in a geologically different place. While the regular approach to extracting natural gas includes drilling into underground where hydrocarbon gases are trapped, producing shale gas involves extracting gas that has been, caught up in an underground layer of shale rock. Technically, the methods used to extract conventional gas and oil are very much alike. What is different are advancements in technology over the last decade which have made shale gas development economically relevant.
“Hydraulic fracturing produces fractures in the rock formation that stimulate the flow of natural gas or oil, increasing the volumes that can be recovered. Wells may be drilled vertically hundreds to thousands of feet below the land surface and may include horizontal or directional sections extending thousands of feet.
Fractures are created by pumping large quantities of fluids at high pressure down a wellbore and into the target rock formation. Hydraulic fracturing fluid commonly consists of water, proppant and chemical additives that open and enlarge fractures within the rock formation. These fractures can extend several hundred feet away from the wellbore. The proppants - sand, ceramic pellets or other small incompressible particles - hold open the newly created fractures.
Once the injection process is completed, the internal pressure of the rock formation causes fluid to return to the surface through the wellbore. This fluid is known as both "flowback" and "produced water" and may contain the injected chemicals plus naturally occurring materials such as brines, metals, radionuclides, and hydrocarbons. The flowback and produced water is typically stored on site in tanks or pits before treatment, disposal or recycling. In many cases, it is injected underground for disposal. In areas where that is not an option, it may be treated and reused or processed by a wastewater treatment facility and then discharged to surface water.” (United States Environmental Protection Agency - The Process of Hydraulic Fracturing")
The process typically involves drilling approximately 3 kilometers down, and then one to three kilometers horizontally. Hydraulic drilling has been used since the 1940s but has increased significantly in the last ten years due to the addition of directional and horizontal drilling techniques, which allows the oil and gas industry to access previously out-of-reach shale reserves. According to some experts, shale gas production will increase drastically in the years to come, until it becomes the main source of energy worldwide.
Mounting concern as production rises

With the increase in shale gas production, applying fracking techniques, there has been a corresponding increase in concerns about the potential impact of the process on public health, drinking water and the environment. The key issue is the potential impact of fracking on drinking water supplies.
Water Supplies

Hydraulic fracturing requires large amounts of water and chemicals to be injected deep underground, where their migration is not entirely predictable. While hydraulically fracturing a conventional (non-shale) well with a single fracture generally requires 50,000 to 100,000 gallons (190-380 m3)20 of fluid, fracking a horizontal shale well requires from one to eight million gallons (3,800-30,000 m3) of water and thousands more gallons of chemicals. (Williams, 2012)
Although companies may try to contextualize the significance of these figures – for instance, ExxonMobil says the amount of freshwater required for drilling and fracking a typical horizontal well is usually equivalent to about 3 to 6 Olympic size swimming pools (Wikipedia) – the absolute numbers are less important than the water volume in that results. This varies by location and the impact of withdrawing an Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of water is different from country to country, and community to community. (Williams, 2012)
Given the volumes of water and chemicals involved and geological stresses intrinsic to hydraulic fracturing, there have been concerns about earthquakes and also the risk of contamination to drinking water. For instance, well failures, due to insufficient well casing, may cause the release of fracturing fluids at shallow depths, close to drinking water supplies, and while some fracturing fluids are removed from the well at the end of the fracturing process, a substantial amount remains underground.
In some areas, wastewater is removed from shale gas wells to be disposed of by injection into deep underground wells, a process which has been linked to seismic concerns. (Global Energy Profs) Storage of wastewater in open pits has also been a cause for concern. (E&Y)

Surface impacts

The physical footprint associated with shale gas exploration and production is significantly larger than that for the exploitation of conventional hydrocarbons. Access to land and land usage is likely to become an increasingly important issue in densely populated Europe. The typical well pad needs to be of sufficient size to accommodate the drilling rig equipment, wastewater ponds, storage and pipeline infrastructure, and facilities for staff and contractors.
In the US, companies have sought to reduce land use through the development of “super pads.” The multi-well pad system allows wellheads to be clustered together and enables the drilling of multiple horizontal wells from a single pad. This is a more expensive option, but it helps reduce the geographical footprint of shale operations. For example, it reduces the need for new transport infrastructure and minimizes the additional traffic on roads. Moreover, the additional cost may be the price that has to be paid to allay concerns over the economic and social costs associated with land use and to win public acceptance. (E&Y)


There are also concerns that the large volumes of water required for hydraulic fracturing may place undue stress on the local water supply. The drilling and hydraulic fracturing of a horizontal shale gas well typically requires more water than conventional oil and gas developments. Water used in shale gas exploration mainly comes from surface water sources but can also come from groundwater, private water sources, civic water supplies, recycled produced water and sea water. There are significant regional variations in precipitation levels across Europe, and in regions where levels are relatively low, there is already periodic pressure on water supplies. The water needs of shale gas development should be balanced with existing regional requirements for water. However, the issue of water usage by the energy sector is not limited to shale gas development. Competing or alternative energy sources can also have large water needs. Hydroelectricity is an obvious example, but crop-based bio fuels also require water for irrigation, and nuclear plants rely on water for cooling systems. (E&Y)

The environment is not the only thing that suffers from fracking. Communities near fracking sites often become disrupted from all of the noise pollution. Each gas well on average requires 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the site. That’s a lot of truck traffic to deal with every day. Fracking is a 24-hour-a-day operation that can be quite loud with all of the large equipment used to drill. Noise from fracking is not just a nuisance; it often creates unlivable situations for residents near the drilling area. (E&Y)

An interesting fact is that Exxon Mobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson was called out by a former exec on his hypocritical anti-fracking lawsuit.
The news, reported last week by the Wall Street Journal, that Rex Tillerson — the CEO of the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company — was involved in an anti-fracking lawsuit because the drilling was happening where he lives was rightly met with cries of outrage and incredulity.
But as a former Big Oil executive himself, Louis W. Allstadt is in a better place than many to call Tillerson out on his hypocrisy.
Up until his retirement in 2000, Allstadt was the executive vice president of Mobil oil, back before it merged with Exxon. Over 31 years spent with the company, he ran its marketing and refining in Japan and managed its worldwide supply, trading and transportation operations.
Since then, however, he’s become a vocal opponent of fracking (Cantarow) in New York state and, more recently, a crusader in the fight to mitigate climate change. “Over the past couple of years, I think it’s become more and more obvious that you might be able to stop someone from drilling in your town,” Allstadt told Salon, “but the impacts are going to get everybody. It doesn’t matter where you live.” (

Frack Quakes

In April 2011, a tremor measuring 2.3 on the Richter scale was felt in the Lancashire seaside resort, followed by an event in May that measured 1.5 on the scale.
“It is highly probable that the hydraulic fracturing of Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall-1 well did trigger a number of minor seismic events,” Cuadrilla admitted. The report also said there was no threat to people and property in the local area caused by the drilling. "The seismic events were due to an unusual combination of geology at the well site coupled with the pressure exerted by water injection as part of operations,” Cuadrilla added, saying that this combination of geological factors was extremely rare and would be unlikely to occur together again at future well sites.
After months of pressure by fracking opponents, Cuadrilla was forced to “voluntary” halt its fracking operation in June 2011.

Social acceptance

In addition to environmental issues, there is the issue of the social acceptance of the shale gas industry in Europe. Compared with the US, there is a higher population density in Europe and more stringent environmental regulations. Issues like noise pollution, which has so far been less of a concern in the US than some of the other issues, might be more of a problem in densely populated regions of Europe. Governments need to promote public confidence in the regulation of shale gas activity, and operators need to demonstrate that their operations are properly managed and sustainable. There has been widespread media coverage of the growing public backlash against shale gas development based on concerns over its impact on the environment. (E&Y)

In Bulgaria, the decision by the government to award shale gas permits has been attacked by opposition socialists and green groups, who have started a campaign against the drilling. The society is extremely sensitive to this issue, mainly because the vast majority of shale gas reserves are situated in “Dobrudja” region, its most fertile land. This land is used to produce wheat, which allows the government to control the prices of bread – an extremely important product for the poorest country in Europe. Bulgaria is a small and relatively densely populated country. Therefore, sacrificing a quarter of its agricultural land seems like too high of a price to pay for cheap gas.
Having in mind that the last two Bulgarian governments rule the country with next to negligible minority, and the current government support in the society at its historical low, it is obvious, that they would not risk introducing such unpopular measures as lifting the ban for shale gas exploration in Bulgaria.

However, Bulgaria shocked the Council of the European Union by voting in support of shale gas extraction by fracking in Europe. This was done by environment minister Iskra Mihaylova in late December of 2013, and was not covered by the media in the country. Thus our country turned its position on the issue by 180 degrees, as we used to be among the most hard-line opponents of the fracking method for extraction of shale gas. This vote pleased the UK and Romania who want a simplified procedure for shale gas exploration drilling.
The complete U-turn in Bulgaria’s position was revealed by the “Greens” party co-chair Borislav Sandov. He explained: “Under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, any drilling to search for shale gas is subject to a compulsory assessment. This creates a lot of difficulties for drilling, but also ensures that each borehole will be vigilantly monitored as a potentially dangerous one, since there is real proof of such danger.”
This text of the EIA Directive, having passed through the committee in the European Parliament, was subjected to a vote in the EU Council of Ministers. With Bulgaria’s negative vote, the proposal was actually dropped. The surprising thing is that the current ruling parties, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, as well as Environment Minister Iskra Mihaylova, had declared unequivocal, opposite positions on this issue – they wanted the environmental impact assessments. Romanian society that actively protested against shale gas exploration in their country is deeply disappointed by the new position of Bulgaria. Once again our country has proven to be an unpredictable player, as it abruptly changed its position, clearly in the service of foreign interests.
After being confronted by fracking opponents in Bulgaria about her vote, Minister Mihaylova has repeatedly tried to assure media and society, that the moratorium on fracking on Bulgarian territory will not be lifted.
At the same time, some communities in Europe are actively embracing the shale gas potential. Poland’s national gas company, Polskie Górnictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo (PGNiG), has started the “Flame of Hope” campaign. Its purpose is to collect the largest possible number of votes in support of an appeal to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to refrain from activities aimed at stopping shale gas exploration and production. The campaign was launched on 29 September 2011, and press reports indicate that more than 16,000 signatures were collected in the first month.
In a poll conducted in August 2011 by Poland’s Centre for Public Opinion Research, 74% of Poles questioned supported the exploitation of shale gas in the country. However, a smaller majority (56%) of respondents supported the development of shale gas deposits situated near their homes. Moreover, 41% of respondents said it was hard to say whether shale gas production is environmentally safe, and 45% expressed the same uncertainty on the question of whether shale gas production is safe for people’s health. This highlights the challenges that operators will face in gaining public support in Europe. Environmental concerns are likely to bolster public support for a strengthening of the regulatory regime governing shale gas development. The European public will be waiting for the results of US studies on the environmental impact of shale gas production to emerge before fully accepting its development in their own countries. (E&Y)

Some suggest that the shale revolution in USA is nothing more than a bubble, driven by record levels of drilling, speculative lease & flip practices on the part of shale energy companies, fee-driven promotion by the same investment banks that fomented the housing bubble, and by unsustainably low natural gas prices. Geological and economic constraints – not to mention the very serious environmental and health impacts of drilling – mean that shale gas and shale oil (tight oil) are far from the solution to our energy woes.

Diminishing returns
High productivity shale plays are not ubiquitous and wells suffer from very high rates of depletion. Shale plays suffer from the law of diminishing returns. Wells experience severe rates of depletion, belying industry claims that wells will be in operation for 30-40 years. For example, the average depletion rate of wells in the Bakken Formation (the largest tight oil play in the US) is 69% in the first year and 94% over the first five years.
The drilling treadmill
Because depletion rates are so high and drilling locations increasingly unproductive, industry is forced to drill ever more wells just to offset declines. This steep rate of depletion requires a frenetic pace of drilling, just to offset declines. Roughly 7,200 new shale gas wells need to be drilled each year at a cost of over $42 billion simply to maintain current levels of production. And as the most productive well locations are drilled first, it’s likely that drilling rates and costs will only increase as time goes on.
Unsustainable prices
Wall Street promoted the shale gas drilling frenzy which resulted in prices lower than the cost of production and thereby profited [enormously] from mergers & acquisitions and other transactional fees. The oil and gas industry is now demonstrating reticence to engage in further shale investment, abandoning pipeline projects, IPOs and joint venture projects.
A shale bubble
As a result of these realities – high depletion rates, the need to drill ever more wells to maintain production, decreasingly productive wells as the best locations are drilled and depleted, and the higher prices required to justify this investment – our country will have drilled and fracked our way down a blind alley (with huge associated economic and environmental costs) for a short-lived energy boom. (

Regulate or Ban? Movement Divisions

The notion that fracking could perhaps be done safely has sometimes opened up a ‘ban’ versus ‘regulate’ divide within the anti-fracking movement. Though generating tensions, it has not stopped the movement’s overall momentum. Some groups have approached the issue tactically: by shaping emerging regulatory regimes through grassroots activism (especially via public commentary periods), opponents of fracking can insist on regulations that are strict enough to make fracking commercially unviable or technically impossible. In Germany proposed regulations – presently awaiting parliamentary debate – would forbid fracking near water supplies or close to national parks or conservation areas, with each application to drill requiring its own environmental impact study. ( However, others in the movement are concerned that engaging in the development of regulatory frameworks merely spreads the illusion that fracking can be safe if adequately regulated. They regard this as a gift to the gas industry by offering it an opportunity to ‘get its act together’ (World Energy Outlook).
The gas industry initially dismissed those who have raised concerns about fracking as ideologically motivated individuals who make claims that are empirically groundless and damaging to job creation and economic growth (arguments that many in the industry still repeat often without qualification). However, in 2012 the IEA in the United States acknowledged that the environmental concerns about fracking were neither groundless nor trivial and the Agency proposed a series of “golden rules” for the gas industry in order to establish safe, or safer, practices for shale gas drilling.


Boston, W. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2014, from Wall Street Journal.
Cantarow, E. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2014, from TruthOut:
E&Y. (n.d.). Ernst&Young. Retrieved March 22, 2014, from$FILE/EY-Shale_gas_in_Europe-revolution_or_evolution.pdf
Global Energy Profs. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2014, from
United States Environmental Protection Agency - The Process of Hydraulic Fracturing". (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2014, from
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2014, from
Williams, S. (2012). Discovering Shale Gas: An Investor's Guide To Hydraulic Fracturing. IRRC Institute.
World Energy Outlook. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2014, from (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2014, from salon:…...

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