* Chevron has planning permits
* Still needs at least two more permissions
* Leftist government in favour of explorationsh
By Ioana Patran
BUCHAREST, Feb 14 U.S. energy major Chevron
is moving towards exploration for shale gas in eastern
Romania but still needs at least two more permits before it can
start drilling, the environment ministry said on Thursday.
Local authorities in Vaslui county, where Chevron has a 1.6
million acre concession, have granted the company planning
permits for three shale gas exploration wells.
"This document does not confer the right to carry out
works," the environment ministry said in a statement to Reuters.
"We are talking about exploration, not exploitation, and we
are in the first phase of assessing an environment permit", for
one of the three wells, the ministry said.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates
that Romania and neighbouring Bulgaria and Hungary could have
538 billion cubic metres of shale gas between them, slightly
more than Europe's annual consumption and enough to cover
Romania's for almost 40 years.
Anti-shale gas activists protested last year in Romania,
however, asking the government to annul Chevron's exploration
rights on environmental concerns and keep a moratorium on
exploration enforced by the ruling leftist government.
But after a clear victory in a December election, Prime
Minister Victor Ponta has indicated Romania will allow companies
to at least look for shale gas.
Chevron will also need permission for construction before it
can start exploration work, according to the text of a law cited
by the ministry.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract shale gas
involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into
underground rock formations. Experts say that if it is done
according to best practice it is environmentally safe, but the
technology still evokes much public concern.
Ponta has softened his views on shale gas exploration since
the December election, in which his alliance won a two-thirds
majority in parliament.
"Exploration yes. After confirming gas exists or does not
exists in approximately five years, we will make a final
decision," Romanian news website HotNews quoted him as saying