Anti-fracking protests are continuing in Pungesti, Romania, despite government efforts to squash the protests so that Chevron can go about its desired business. This may be the mechanism by which the presence of oil companies in a country causes governments to become draconian. The local people don’t want the ick of the side effects of fossil fuel extraction, but the national government throws in its lot with the oil companies, subverting the government into being a tool of the oil company in ensuring it can do its business. In the meantime the locals get saddled with the externalities, which are increases in all kinds of diseases close to fossil fuel extraction operations, because of the toxic chemicals that get released.
We have been looking at the protest in Pungesti, Romania, as an example of how this operates. I wrote three earlier reports, one summarizing some videos we found from the protests, then two looking at news reports from mid- to late-December 2013 covering the protests and brutal squashing of the protests by National police forces (here and here).
The news from Pungesti has been quiet, primarily because the Police set up a dominating presence in the vicinity so complete that locals reportedly weren’t able to even take their cows out to pasture. I can only go by the reports I’m finding, which are appearing in local press outlets, which you can see in the previous postings linked above.
This weekend, according to local press reports, the villagers in Pungesti and Siliştea, Vaslui, Romania, held a march between their two villages. The march was said to commemorate the Răscoala ţărănimii din anul 1907, or the Romanian Peasants Revolt of 1907. The 1907 revolt had to do with the unequal distribution of land, with large landowners holding the bulk of the land, leaving peasants with little or no land of their own. That revolt began in Flămânzi, a small village in the same region of Romania, bordering Moldova.
The march route this weekend went through fields parallel to highway 159 (between Pungesti and Siliştea) which just so happened to take them in front of the Chevron facility. And they just so happened to stop at the Chevron facility.
Here’s how Chrome translated the statement of one participant as reported by Curierul National:
“Unfortunately, people were stopped by the gendarmes, given that would have required special transit public safety area where Chevron operates. Accordingly, the locals have decided to go on the field to Pungesti, and when they have reached the right land owned by Chevron, approximately 300 gendarmes were set on the device, along the fence surrounding. Villagers shouted slogans against shale gas, gendarmes and decision makers, namely the government, ” said today Mediafax Pâslaru Constantin, one of the environmental activists present at the action.
It said the march comprised 250 people. They were able to spend a half hour protesting in front of the Chevron facility, and then retreat to Siliştea. Total duration was three hours, and there were no major incidents.
Another report on Stirile Pro TV said that two priests were involved in the rally, and that for 11 days there had been 13 protesters on hunger strike at the site. They’d been camping across the street from the Chevron facility, and were under medical supervision with an ambulance stationed nearby. However, the hunger strikers called off that effort a few days ago, because of a risk of being fined by the police. At least, that’s what I gather from the translation by Chrome.
In mid-December 2013, adverul.ro ran a very interesting piece concerning the situation on the ground with the locals of the villages, as well as an editorial against shallow environmentalists which included this picture. The editorial decried a “manipulation” because it appeared, to the writer of that editorial, the police crackdown at Pungesti wasn’t too outrageous considering the damage done by protestors. And this picture here is an example of the manipulation.
The Adverul reporters talked with the Mayor, Mircia Vlasic, who described the transfer of land to Chevron as entirely legal. We saw in earlier reports (see links above) claims that the land transfer to Chevron was illegal.
They spoke with some of the reporters. One, Alex Lupe, is from Sibiu, and had been working in Germany, but quit his job to return to Romania to take part in the Rosia Montana protests. Another, Marius Ignat, is a local, apparently a soccer player, who is spending full time in the protests. His wife has been calling him, begging him to come home, but he feels he has to be part of the protests.
The most interesting thing in the piece is how a young person, 20 years old, living in the village, used the Internet to learn about the disaster that was about to befall Pungesti. He’s quoted saying he simple Google’d Chevron and some other phrases, and quickly learned about some events in Ecuador (where another local village had been horribly poisoned with lots of sick people) and the effects of hydraulic fracturing.
In other words, the village was radicalized against Chevron’s project by what they learned on the Internet.
In general the report tells us about the courage of these local people, standing up to megacorportations and their own government.
In late-December 2013, The Ecologist ran a little piece talking about human rights violations in Pungesti, that in turn referred to a report by The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania – Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH)
“Fundamental rights provided in the Constitution have been violated at the village of Pungesti.
“Locals were denied freedom of movement (Article 25), the right to freedom of expression (Article 30), the right to information (Article 31), and freedom of assembly (Article 39).
“Under the pretext of maintaining public order and without any official public information, the villagers live every day as if under siege. APADOR-CH considers that the authorities’ decision establishing the ‘area of public safety’ is excessive and calls for its cancellation.”
“Villagers who have been victims of police violence are afraid to make a complaint. Those who were not directly attacked they fear becoming victims.”
“Villagers complained that they no longer allowed to leave the house or in the yard after 6pm, some saying they were beaten by gendarmes if they violated this verbal prohibition. They also stated that they are not allowed to circulate through the village in groups of more than three people.”
“The atmosphere is very tense. Checkpoints are located along the county road … made up of police, traffic police agents and gendarmes. At the time of the visit there were at least five filters of this type, posted before and after the land on which the company is conducting Chevron’s shale gas exploration.”
“The atmosphere, though strained, is one of solidarity and understanding between local people and between them and the environmental activists present.”
In mid-December 2013, the Huffington Post ran a piece claiming that Romania is in Crisis between Police Violence, Political Immunity, and Environmental Discontents. Like some of the other reporting, this one tied the protest in Pungesti with another protest movement over the proposed gold mine at Rosia Montana. The law which would have allowed that project to occur got rejected in mid-December, by the Parliament.
While it’s good news, to environmentalists, that the Rosia Montana project was denied, realists recognize that they’ll just propose it again. The language of the just-rejected law strongly echo’d an earlier bill which was also rejected. But beyond that, the Parliament passed a number of other items which are pretty egregious.
Here’s how the Huffington Post piece put it:
Perhaps the most incredible of these was a series of amendments to the
country’s penal code that would immunize the political class (e.g., the
president and parliament, mayors and, yes, lawyers!) from corruption
charges by removing their status as “public officials.” Further, this
immunity may well extend to prior acts.
The report goes on to note two things – first, that there is an investigation of purported money laundering and corruption by RMGC (a Romanian subsidiary of the Canadian Gabriel Resources) – second is the brutal crackdown in Pungesti against the locals whose protests I’ve written about. The political class may, therefore, according to the Huffington Post piece, need the protection of such a law so they won’t be themselves put in jail.
The Huffington Post report goes on to position this as part of an ongoing displease that the Revolt of 1989 which ejected Romania’s communist dictator, Ceausescu, didn’t result in the kind of country the people wanted. The example at hand is how Pungesti, whose residents are united in opposition to Chevron’s hydraulic fracturing operation, and how:
police of all colors (from regular police to riot police to peacekeeper
troops) descend upon their village, violating civil rights, beating
individuals, and intimidating the entire community.
For a sample of Romania’s future unless this is stopped, simply browse around the Bakken Formation in North Dakota. That link takes you to Google Maps, and each of the dirt colored splotches is a drilling pad. If you browse around the region there are thousands of these drilling pads. All of the oil drilling in that territory is thanks to Hydraulic Fracturing. The Chevron facility we’re discussing here is equivalent to just one of those drilling pads. Assuming Chevron is successful in their fracking in Pungesti, they’ll start replicating drilling pads all over the region.
The Frack Off Romania blog has uncovered news, on Jan 4, 2014, that a town in Romania has already been “destroyed” by fracking. It was done in secret in a village named Izvoarele, which is near Galati near the delta of the Danube. Like Pungesti and Siliştea, Izvoarele is a tiny village and perhaps those people didn’t have a tech-savvy young kid to help them research what would happen to them. The fracking was discovered by an increase in shallow earthquakes, and investigators found
the water has been contaminated (the people receive very little quantities of bottled water), the birds and animals are dying, sinkholes are appearing. And of course, due to the earthquakes, some houses are badly damaged.
Here’s a video, with subtitles.
Another report, on HotNews.ro, from mid-December 2013, covers two things .. first, is the attempt by Chevron to distribute backpacks containing candy and other items to children in the area of Pungesti. While Chevron positions this as a way of reaching out to locals, in support of local education, etc etc .. however, they also had to deny that this was a propaganda activity, which just implies that it is indeed propaganda.
The other thing reported is the extent of Chevron’s eventual operations in the area. They have approval for operations in three localities the villages of Paltinis, Pungesti and Silistea. These are all very close together, with Vaslui as the nearest largeish town.
Chevron is beginning with the 20,000 square meter site (2 hectare) site at Pungesti.
The police presence is described as maintaining strict control of Pungesti, Siliştea, and various roads in the area. While Police is not “arresting” cars or people, they are legitimizing them, meaning they’re checking the papers of everyone in the vicinity.
Vremea Noua reports in mid-December 2013, that at least 37 people have been charged in criminal case no.5199/P/2013.
“In case no. 5199/P/2013 was prosecuted against 28 accused for offenses of assault against morality and destruction, facts prev. and ped. of art. 321, para. 2 and art. 217, para. 1 Penal Code, and against 9 accused for the offense of assault against morality, the fact prev. and ped. of art. 321 para. Two Criminal Code offenses consisting in the fact that, on 12.07.2013, the accused smashed the gates of Chevron platform perimeter of the beam com Pungesti, Vaslui County, provoked incidents and workers attacked the Gendarmerie, the endangered their safety and workers of companies operating in the interior platform,” said prosecutor Mihaela saved spokesman Vaslui District Court Prosecutor’s Office. According to the Penal Code for assault against morality, protesters accused in the file can be punished by imprisonment of between two and seven years, while for destruction, punishment is less and between one and three years, or a fine.
The difficulty reading this is because of Chrome’s not quite good translation.
Another mid-December 2013 report in the same outlet says independent MP Remus Cernae has pledged to introduce a law in support of the people in Pungesti.
“I managed to speak to a spokesman here, locally, a mayor who said that this is gendarmes to prevent the commission of crimes. From my point of view, but the number of gendarmes not justified. Monday I will interpellate the Minister of Interior and will be asked to make public the number of policemen present every day in common Pungesti, the costs involved and one thing that seems hilarious but necessary mounting public toilets for these people detach here because they were filmed by bushes and not fair, “he said.
Frack Off Romania blog – http://frackoffromania.wordpress.com/
Frack Off Pungesti facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/565381926888800/
No Fracking Romania Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/No-Fracking-Romania/588564321193075
Pungesti official city website – http://www.pungesti.ro/
Official website for Rosia Montana resisters – http://www.rosiamontana.org/en
Uprising in Pungesti on Romanian Wikipedia – http://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolta_de_la_Punge%C8%99ti
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