(Photo source) UPDATE 19h Thursday evening: News just in: Chevron has announced that activities for shale gas exploration have been suspended in Silistea, Vaslui. The communiqué comes after three days of protests (see below) from local residents who formed a human chain to block Chevron's access to the site, along with a huge solidarity rally in Bucharest last night.
"Chevron can today confirm it has suspended activities in Silistea, Pungesti commune, Vaslui county," the US giant said earlier this afternoon. "Chevron is committed to building constructive and positive relationships with the communities where we operate and we will continue our dialogue with the public, local communities and authorities on our projects."
This is marvellous news. But 'suspended' doesn't mean cancelled entirely or ruled out completely. It simply means put on hold, so I'm not sure whether it is yet safe for the people of Pungesti to breathe. Call me pessimistic but if something seems too good to be true, it very often is.
After Chevron had left the area this morning in the presence of local residents and Vaslui Police Chief Radu Renga, the latter was booed for his handling of yesterday's demonstration which ended in violent confrontation with jandarmi. Renga could only say that no one had died and order had needed to be restored. It's doubtful anyone was convinced by such impressive rhetoric...
The Pungesti county council have decided to hold a referendum on November 24th to decide whether to allow Chevron to explore for shale. The referendum will apparently not be binding, and Chevron says they have all the necessary permits required for the work to be carried out in any case. I don't quite see the point of a referendum, then. But still, that's just me.
Sounds like a pause-café 'til things calm down a bit.
Time will tell. Watch this space...
Wednesday 16th October:
(Photo source) On Monday, hundreds of villagers from Pungesti blocked roads in a human chain to halt vehicles intent on drilling a first exploration well for Chevron. The convoy was forced to turn back as protesters, some in horse-drawn carts, called for the US energy giant to "go home", reported AFP.
Demands for PM Ponta to resign were just as loud. The crowd (and not only here in Pungesti) accuse him of going back on his pledge to block shale gas drilling made before he took power by granting Chevron exploration permits. Romania’s government sold Chevron the rights to frack the shale beneath more than a million acres of land and since July of this year, they have permits to prospect three villages in this part of Eastern Romania - Paltinis (Bacesti), Popeni (Gagesti) and Silistea (Pungesti), as well as for shale gas exploration on the Black Sea coast. See more HERE for a chronology of Vaslui's County Council's approvals, decisions, authorisations, etc. Jeez...
Protesters were also furious at having been subjected to pressure tactics from representatives of Pungesti Townhall - when you read the chronology of events hyperlinked in the previous sentence, you can well imagine the type of pressure these people have had to put up with. One example given is a declaration from the mayor that anyone receiving state benefits would have them taken away if they dared show up at the rally. Isn't that charming - but more on the mayor of Pungesti later.
Protests continued yesterday, but today things turned very nasty indeed in Pungesti.
(Photo source) This afternoon, the police chief of Vaslui authorised the 'removal' of protesters by force if they wouldn't budge of their own accord. The protesters refused to break the chain of grasped hands they had formed on their knees to keep Chevron out. Around 300 mobilised en mass and in the confrontation, Costicã Spiridon aged 81 said to be the heart of anti-Chevron resistance and one of its leaders at Pangesti was punched in the stomach by police.
"They dragged him from a pond and left him for 5 minutes without any medical assistance. I saw how a policeman hit him," his daughter said.
Another protester aged 76 was victim of a heart attack (not fatal as far as I know) following a skirmish with police and at least three others were injured. There is also a report that police bullied a three year old child... The stories coming in of police brutality and maltreatment are truly shocking.
The spokesman for the Vaslui Police, Lucian Modaranu, stated they had intervened on the orders of the region's police chief, Radu Renga. In an interview with Realitatea, Renga said that police had to to re-establish law and order. Irina Drãgan, spokeswoman for the Romanian Police, denied that any such force as mentioned above was used.
Whether or not police 'intervention' was necessary (and physical violence definitely was NOT), the citizens of Pungesti have a perfect right to protest and to defend themselves against any aggression. At present, there are reportedly around 500 people rallying in Pungesti.
(Photo source) Traffic police have blocked all access by road for 2km in an effort to prevent anyone else from joining the demonstration and are checking all vehicles for banners, posters, etc. There is a very real and palpable fear in Pungesti this evening.
Blogs, FB and other social networks are justifiably rife with info, photos, witness statements, overwhelming anger and incredulity.
Meanwhile in Bucharest, a meeting of solidarity was organised for 18h this evening at Piata Universitatii via social networks. The just-dismissed (by fax today - how elegant) Director of the Institute of Geology, Ștefan Marincea, joined the demonstration adding his voice to the crowd of several thousand. He is convinced - and is surely right - that his abrupt dismissal is due to his stance against the Rosia Montana project.
Demands for the Minister of the Interior Radu Stroe's resignation filled the air, followed by "Jos guvernul criminal, jos guvernul tradator!" "Jandarmeria apara hotia!" The demonstrators hit the road, blocking Bds Elisabeta and N. Balcescu. News flooded in during the course of the evening that two men had indeed lost their lives at Pungesti earlier today... Follow this LIVE TEXT from Bucharest for more info on what's happening.
(Photo source) So now back to the mayor of Pungesti. Here is the mug of Mircia C Vlasă, who is said not only to have bullied and pressurised the citizens of his town, but also to have leased land to Chevron without taking the opinions of local residents into account. At this precise moment in time, he is on some mysterious holiday. Needless to say, this is not the first time he has been embroiled in scandal - he has a track record as long as your arm for dodgy dealings. Enfin bref, this mayor who has repeatedly declared that shale gas drilling brings no danger to the area (since when did he become an expert?) is nowhere to be found. I wonder how much swag he has pocketed from the deals with Chevron...
The people of Pungesti have been protesting against shale gas drilling in their region since at least early spring. Once again, the jandarmi showed up to intimidate them back then too, refusing access to anyone who wasn't from the town.
This article says that Chevron was there in September handing out t-shirts, caps, kites and beer at the fair held weekly in Silistea, the village where the first drilling equipment is set to be placed. Moreover, one of the local counselors served sarmale to the locals in order to appease them. Les douceurs...
This site reports the following: 'Several European countries have already embraced a precautionary approach [to fracking]. France was the first European country to ban fracking in 2011. Most recently, France’s Constitutional Court upheld a ban on fracking, while the country reaffirmed its intention to focus on developing renewable energy instead. In 2012, Bulgaria adopted a moratorium on fracking and immediately revoked an exploration permit previously granted to Chevron, invoking insufficient proof of the environmental safety of the practice.'
The exploration for shale gas in a community clearly rejecting the opinions of its residents goes against Chevron’s officially stated commitment to protect the people and the environment and to consult communities regarding local needs. Chevron faces not just the Pungesti’s opposition, but a very clear NU from the majority of the Romanian population.
(Photo source) Romania is a democratic country and part of the EU. We are in 2013. HOW can people be ridden over rough shod at such a level? And HOW can violent police intervention causing injuries serious enough to require hospitalisation have been authorised against peaceful protesters? It is an outrage. Corruption and greed are quite simply 'punished' with rewards.
It is repugnant. What is happening in Romania today from Rosia Montana to the demolitions in Bucharest at the hands of the megalomanic mayor oprescu to Chevron, seems as though the country of my heart is having her very soul ripped out - her mountains, her land, her history, her beauty and her patrimony all worthless next to grubby little hands intent on money and gold.
See also via live streaming TV Pungesti for news as it happens...