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Is Russia Behind Bulgarian Anti-Fracking Protests?

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Why would Bulgarian pro-Russian interests do such a thing? Could it be that because of a long-term contract, Gazprom delivers more than 90% of the natural gas consumed in Bulgaria?

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Pity the poor Eastern Europeans. Fifty years under the domination of their massive Soviet eastern neighbor, then the collapse of Communism there two decades ago offered undreamed-of opportunities to join both the European Union and NATO.

But they still remain dependent on the Russian Federation for the majority of their oil and gas needs, and the new capitalists in Moscow do not hesitate to charge the highest prices possible.

Accordingly, a number of East European nations, particularly Poland and Bulgaria, are actively investigating the possibility of establishing hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") operations on their territory to develop an indigenous natural gas industry and undercut the Russian Federation's state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom (OGZPY.PK).

Mindful, however, of the possible negative environmental effects of fracking, 166 members of the Bulgarian National Assembly's 240 parliamentarians last month voted to impose an indefinite ban on shale gas exploration and extraction in Bulgaria using hydraulic fracturing or other similar technology.

Now a hard-hitting editorial in the Trud newspaper by Ivan Sotirov, titled "Russian Lobby Against Shale Gas," accuses pro-Russian Bulgarian supporters of fomenting protests against shale gas operations in the country.

Commenting that "nightmare" protest rallies against fracking have taken place in the capital's Sofia streets, Sotirov wrote of their effects:

The ostensibly rightist majority at the National Assembly has capitulated, without any serious arguments, to this pseudo-civic pressure, and has adopted a moratorium on prospecting and extracting shale gas in Bulgaria. In other words, the National Assembly has banned Bulgaria from learning whether it has shale gas deposits -- information which could have released us from the total energy dependence on Russia.

The majority in the National Assembly has allowed the Bulgarian Socialist Party (or BSP), the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (or DPS), and several semi self-disintegrating mini-parties to insult the Minister of Energy (Traycho Traykov), who has been appointed by the same confused and helpless majority... It has been inadmissible for the chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces (Martin Dimitrov) and rightist deputies to support this decision, which contradicts the Bulgarian national interest and protects our total energy dependence on Russia.

In addition, all this has been done without any serious motivation because the campaign against the shale gas prospecting has been based on cheap manipulations and lies. This has been an attempt to disguise a political issue as a purely ecological matter.

Writing about the campaign as one of disinformation, Sotirov continues:

The first lie has been that experiments with a new technology will be conducted in Bulgaria. This is totally untrue... Second -- the so-called defenders of environment protection among the politicians have not cited even a single example of a serious case of pollution after fracking.

Finally, Sotirov names names:

Noted chiefs of the Sixth Department (of State Security -- the Communist era secret service), led by Dimitur Ivanov - Mityo the Gestapo and the supporters of (former President) Georgi Purvanov's Grand Slam (the 'Belene' Nuclear Power Plant construction, the "South Stream" (natural gas pipeline to export Gazprom gas) project, and the "Burgas-Alexandroupolis" oil pipeline project, are among the protestors against shale gas prospecting...

Sotirov concludes:

The most shameful fact is the realization that after 22 years of democracy Bulgaria's policy continues to be dictated by oligarchic pro-Russian circles, which, hiding behind nationalistic and ecological rhetoric have not allowed a single serious strategic Western investor to set a foot in Bulgaria. The question is when somebody will finally stop them.

Why would Bulgarian pro-Russian interests do such a thing?

Could it be that because of a long-term contract, Gazprom delivers more than 90% of the natural gas consumed in Bulgaria?

Or that last November it was announced that Gazprom would enter Bulgaria's retail fuel market by buying gas stations in the country through its Serbian unit, Naftna Industrija Srbije?

Or that Gazprom CEO Aleksei Millter, during his presentation "Gazprom: New Horizons" at Gazprom's Annual General Shareholders Meeting on June 30, 2011, outlined a series of projected natural gas pipelines across Bulgaria to deepen Gazprom's market share in Eastern and Central Europe?

Or that in December 2010 Gazprom acquired a 50% stake in the South Stream Bulgaria AD pipeline project?

Or the fact that the natural gas contract between Bulgaria and Gazprom expires later this year?

Or that Gazprom is forecasting its consolidated net profit for 2011 at $40 billion, or 25% more than in 2010?

Nah, surely none of the above -- Bulgarian parliamentarians are only being good custodians of the country's environment, surely.

This article was written by John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com.
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