US energy giant Chevron has resumed its search for shale gas in north-eastern Romania after hundreds of riot police reportedly brutally removed a bunch of villagers who had been camping out at the site protesting the company’s plan.
Back in October, Chevron suspended its plans to drill an exploration well for shale gas in the village of Pungesti – which is believed to be sitting on vast reserves of the valuable natural resource.
To prevent Chevron from moving on with the drilling, Pungesti villagers set up a camp in a privately-owned field next to the site where the well was planned to be installed.
For about six weeks the strategy seemed to work, but that changed Monday when Romanian riot police, gendarmes and firemen mobilized forces to break the protesters’ resistance. According to media reports, law enforcers descended on the area early in the morning. Using police and Chevron vehicles, they blocked the road linking the village with the city of Vaslui, and surrounded the protesters camp.
Some 40 people were beaten, detained and then taken to the nearest town for further investigation, reports Romanian news website Nineoclock. Romania-Insider reports about 30 people being taken to custody “for hostile behavior” while the Gendarmes blocked access to the area to allow Chevron to start its activities there.
“The police arrived, they beat us and dragged us away,” one of the villagers, Elena Privac, complained. “They forced us out of the camp we had set up and blocked the road, not even school buses are allowed to pass,” she added, as cited by enca.com.
While activists claim that around 1,000 law enforcers were taking part in the operation, police put the number at 300. Journalists were reportedly not permitted to get to the scene.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta said the Gendarmerie officials acted in full accordance with the law and added that same actions would have been implemented if people illegally occupied property belonging to anyone else.
Meanwhile, activists have launched a petition campaign on the web calling to “Stop Chevron and police abuse in Pungesti”. Once 20,000 signatures are collected, the document will be sent to the European Parliament, the European Commission, and human rights organizations.
“This abusive intervention is without precedent in a democratic Romania and it follows two months of continuous harassment and intimidation of the local community. It is an irresponsible, dangerous attack on human and civil rights, as recognized worldwide,” it reads.
By Tuesday evening, over 18,650 people had signed the petition.
Chevron reiterated on Monday that its priority was to “conduct these activities in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” cited Associated Press. The American oil and gas giant gained permits to drill exploratory wells in Pungesti.
Protesters and environmentalists fear that the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” would be disastrous for the local environment. They say that pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into deep rock formations to free oil or gas could contaminate groundwater.
On October 20, activists from 26 countries staged around 250 protests against fracking technologies.
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