Romania: State sticks up for Chevron against its own citizens

Our colleague Vladimir Bortun wrote a text about the situation in Romania

The protest movement against the mining project at Rosia Montana scored a significant victory on Tuesday, 10 December, when the project failed to pass through the Chamber of Deputies (after also failing to pass through the Senate on 19 November). Meanwhile however, the situation with Chevron’s fracking project has become extremely alarming: in order to enable Chevron to start fracking operations in the village of Pungesti, Romanian authorities have supressed the protests of locals and activists from all around the country by suspending basic civil rights. This undermines the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of wide sections of society.

The Chevron story started in 2010, when the American corporation was granted – under undisclosed conditions – leases for over two million acres of land by the Romanian government to start fracking for shale gas, one of the so-called ‘unconventional’ gases. While conventional gases flow to surface by merely drilling a hole in the ground, unconventional gases entail the hydraulic fracturing of the rock, or fracking, to be released. This implies pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at a very high pressure. What is particularly interesting is that only five years ago, shale gas amounted for less than 5% of the US domestic gas production; in 2012, it amounted for over 20% and is expected to reach 50% in twenty years from now.

Also interesting is that Mark Gitenstein, the US ambassador in Romania (2009-2012) when the dubious deal was made, is a former partner in the law firm Mayer Brown, which lobbied for Chevron between 2005 and 2011, receiving over $300,000 from the energy corporation. Because of his lobbying activity, Gitenstein’s nomination for heading the Office of Legal Policy of the Department of Justice was turned down; instead, he was sent to Romania. Quite predictably, the new ambassador organised several meetings between Chevron representatives and high-level Romanian officials, issuing statements in favour of shale gas extraction. Actually, during a phone interview, Gitenstein openly admitted his involvement (despite the repeated denials of Chevron’s representatives): “I was required by the U.S. government to advocate for Exxon. The same thing for Chevron.” Today, Gitenstein works again for Mayer Brown, as a “special counsel in the Government & Global Trade practice”. He has also become a board member in “Fondul Proprietatea”, a state-established joint stock company that has shares in all the important oil, gas and power generation companies in Romania.

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