In the sleepy rural village of Pungesti, Romania, life has changed very little in generations. There is not a car in sight: birdsong is broken only by the clip-clop of horses’ hooves and the trundle of cart wheels, as farmers with weather-beaten faces drive their animals over rolling green pastures. Old women in headscarves and tattered long skirts cook simple meals of fried cabbage and meat inside dark concrete shacks, and the ultra-conservative village priests of the Orthodox church still play a vital role in these traditional, tight-knit communities.
These colorful characters may not look like your typical environmental protesters, but many of them have reinvented themselves as guerilla activists in the fight against fracking.
Last year, oil giant Chevron began scoping out fracking sites in the Eastern European country, bringing T-shirts and yoghurts in a cynical bid to win over the people. Romania, one of the poorest countries in the E.U, is sitting on an estimated 51 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. This means big bucks for companies like Chevron and the Romanian government, who have given the green light to fracking companies in three remote villages despite widespread public anger.
Last October, hundreds of protesters blocked a road and made a human chain to stop Chevron drilling in Pungesti. Police broke up the protest amid claims of brutality , but that didn´t deter campaigners in the capital Bucharest, who marched to a local television station banging drums and blowing whistles. An online resistance site was set up and more protests erupted in December, when Chevron was forced to suspend operations due to their equipment being destroyed by campaigners. Last month, Pungesti protesters ´exorcised´ Chevron´s demons from their village (one priest called their presence a ´satanic invasion´), while villagers chanted “We will die to save all of Romania!” and: “Out, you flea-ridden dirty dogs!”
Local mayors who have allowed fracking to take place have been ostracized by local communities, with one such official now under police protection. In some areas where drilling has already taken place, cracks have appeared in the earth. In one case, a sinkhole swallowed up half the room, not to mention a housekeeper (who later recovered). The situation is made worse by the shocking fact that under Romanian law, there is no financial compensation for these inevitable consequences of fracking; and not only that, but not a penny of the profits made from shale gas extraction will go to the poverty-stricken communities affected.
In many cases, fracking officials are trespassing on farmers´private property to lay cables for seismic testing without landowners´permission. The response of Romanian villagers is inspirational: refusing to go down without a fight, they sneak into fields in the dead of night to cut the cables, claiming it´s their “duty”. They chase away the 4×4 vehicles and trucks sent by Chevron and the government with sticks and screams of “traitors!”, and they have staged mass nationwide protests against Chevron´s shale gas extraction, as well as a Canadian corporation´s plan to use cyanide to extract gold in the northwest of the country.
While the battle is far from over, anti-fracking crusaders around the world can learn a lot from the dedication, passion and hands-on guerilla methods of these inspirational Romanian activists. It´s time every single one of us stood up, grabbed our cable-cutters, and shouted “Over my fracking dead body!” to the greedy corporations and corrupt politicians raping our earth and exploiting our communities.
First published here.