Uprising Grows Against Fracking in a Surprising Part of Europe
Fighting with the police.
Photo Credit: Jim Wickens / EFU
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"Do you think they're about to have sex?", one of the group whispers. I'm in Transylvania, crouched in the bushes with a bunch of activists in balaclavas, taking turns to speculate why a car has crept to a halt close to where we are hiding out. "No, it must be the cops, you can see the light from the mobile phone", another one says. Time to move on.
It has been over an hour since the group started trashing equipment owned by the gas exploration company Prospectiuni, playing an edgy game of cat and mouse as we struggle to stay one step ahead of the security teams and police vehicles that are now sweeping the hilltops looking for us.
Another light tears round the bend on the road and the shout goes through the team to hide. I throw myself down, stretched out once again in the cool damp grass of a Transylvanian meadow. It's going to be a long night.
In recent weeks the sleepy Saxon communities and protected forests of Sibiu county in Transylvania, have become an unlikely front for a new battleground, pitting gas exploration companies, the Romanian government and international investment firms, against a small band of environmental activists from across Romania, who are working side by side with local farmers to resist gas and oil exploration that they claim is taking place illegally on their land.
Listed on the London Stock exchange just two weeks ago with brokering assistance from Goldman Sachs, the Romanian gas company Romgaz has long announced plans to explore the low-lying hills of Transylvania for conventional and also unconventional sources of gas and oil.
Nobody gave it another thought till the exploration began in earnest this month, when 34 tonne earthquake-inducing seismic trucks growled into the muddy tracks of villages here, accompanied by cohorts of security guards and busloads of workers.
Communities told me that they awoke to ribbons being laid out across their lands even attached to their garden fences, signals for the companies to lay cables and plant the explosives for the seismic tests.
Today the villages and fields are peppered in strips of ribbon, stretching like spaghetti across this ancient landscape of beech forests, bee hives and the harvested stubs of organic corn fields intermingled with medieval villages and citadels.
All the seismic tests are taking place within Romania's largest Natura 2000 site, and several of the churches here are UNESCO heritage sites, visited both by Princes Charles and Edward in recent years.
Driving into the remote communities where the seismic tests are taking place, feels like walking into an occupied territory. I watch as a team of workers prepare a hole with dynamite a few metres from the village football pitch. On the high street private security jeeps can be seen parked up at the cross-roads, black uniformed men filming and following our every move.
At the end of the road an elderly orthodox priest ushers me inside nervously, asking not to be identified. "They told me not to talk with you", he says. "The bishops say it is not the role of a priest to get involved in community affairs." He pauses, a flash in his eyes, almost thinking aloud.
"We thought they had come to rebuild the playground - then the earthquake happened, shaking the houses here, causing cracks and breaking ornaments inside the houses. The people were scared. Nobody asked us permission, they didn't even tell us what they were doing."
He is interrupted by a shrill ringtone on his mobile. 15 minutes later he returns to the kitchen, told again by his superiors to be quiet. The interview is over. "They know you are here", he says, showing us the door.