Protests against shale gas exploration in southern Algeria have erupted on Tuesday with 2,000 people protesting in the city of Tamanrasset, urging that the nearby shale gas project be halted.
Smaller protests near the towns of Ain Salah and Tamenrasset have been taking place since Sunday in a bid to force the energy giant Sonatrach to stop shale gas drilling operations.
“We are determined to continue our protest and general strike until the government meet our claims, including the immediate stop of the drilling operations, and the withdrawal of all drilling materials and machines from targeted shale gas fields,” said Abdelkarim Ouanili, a local activist in Ain Salah.
Algeria is Africa’s largest gas producer and supplier of a fifth Europe’s gas needs, but with many of its fields maturing, the country is eager to tap into its unconventional deposits to offset the shortfall. Algeria has the third-largest estimated shale gas reserves in the world, after China and Argentina. With 707 trillion cubic feet of estimated technically recoverable shale gas, the country clearly has a lot to gain from shale exploration.
So much, in fact, that even the plummeting prices of oil did not deter it from investing $400 million to develop shale gas. The investment – announced only last month – will see the country’s state-owned giant Sonatrach along with a yet-unnamed partner, begin exploitation of the large shale gas fields in Algeria by 2020. The estimated production capacity is 30 billion cubic meters in the first stage, or 40 per cent of Algeria’s current production capacity (73.4 billion cubic meters in 2012).
So far, Algerian government has played down the impact any opposition could have on shale exploration, accusing shale opponents of staging attempts at political destabilization.
“These attempts to demonize shale production target countries that advocate energy nationalism to assert sovereignty over their natural resources,” Minister of Energy and Mines Youcef Yousfi was quoted as saying.
Speaking in September 2014, Mr Yousfi swept aside any concerns related to potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, saying: “Regarding the use of hydraulic fracturing in shale gas extraction, it has been used for several years by Sonatrac to optimize crude extraction from the giant Hassi Messaoud oilfield.”
With regard to the water use associated with shale gas extraction he said that the amount of water needed for large-scale shale projects was less than that currently used to increase pressure in some of the country’s conventional gas fields.
“We will not make the country thirsty,” he said at the time.
This obviously failed to assuage the fears of local population concerned about the impact of the exploitation of shale gas on environment, including the risk of polluting groundwater.
A government official – who insisted on staying anonymous – told The Associated Press that a delegation of ministers will be sent to reassure people. Previous attempts by the governor of the city of Tamanrasset were unsuccessful as the protesters demanded to see the prime minister.
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