“There is a real prerequisite for the formation of unacceptably high health risks.” Statement by an expert on health and the environment in the case of Rusgeocom BG against the Regional Inspectorate of the Environment and Water in Varna (RIEW). The investing company filed an appeal against the decision not to approve its investment proposal for gas exploration and production in four sections: “Rogozina”, “Chernookovo”, “Kalina” and “Rogozina East” in the Dobruja region . The eleventh hearing of the case began today with growing public interest. Since the morning, dozens of citizens have besieged the entrance to the administrative court of Varna, responding to a call on social networks. Women dressed in traditional costumes welcomed the citizens with bread and salt to the taste of the granary of Bulgaria. People brought posters that read “We are awake”, “We ordinary people – TOGETHER for a normal life and a clean Earth!”, “Dobruja? Yes”. For the first time, some citizens were allowed to watch the hearing live from video screens in a courtroom. One of the posters that people carried outside was given to the lawyers of Rusgeocom BG, who were greeted by shouts of “mafia”. The investor’s lawyers asked the court to release the expert who carried out the health and environmental assessment and to replace him with another. The court did not comply with the request. For almost 5 hours, the expert replied to the questions of the parties and the reporting judge. After the applications were exhausted, the report was accepted.

According to the health and environmental report, “the average threshold for the normal protection of human health could be exceeded by 4.77 times and there will also be many more cases of exceeding the threshold, compared to the 18 times allowed in 1 year”. The expert speculated that actual pollution concentrations would be higher than those predicted by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and he added that measures to prevent and limit significant consequences for human health are insufficient. According to the report, “late manifestations of the effects of chemical-toxic factors on the water are possible, which may constitute an increased risk for the population”. The document does not rule out radioactive contamination as well as an increased long-term health risk from accidents.

The court gave the parties one month to submit written submissions and an additional week to respond to submissions. The court’s decision will be announced “within a reasonable time, after the submission of opinions,” announced the press service of the judicial institution.

The beginning of the gas extraction saga in Dobruja dates back to 2003, when the Russian company “Bashkirgeologiya” received permission to study the area for extraction. Four years later, the project was bought by Rusgeocom BG, which is linked to Overgas, the country’s largest private natural gas supplier. The company managed to discover gas reserves and record a geological discovery. This led to the government requesting a 35-year concession, with proven recoverable reserves of 1,097 billion cubic meters of gas and a potential 2.5 times higher.

In 2017, Dobruja residents organized mass protests against the investment in natural gas production. In December of the same year, a local referendum was held in the municipality of General Toshevo, on whose territory drilling is planned. 97% of those who exercised the right to vote were against using their land for the extraction of underground natural resources.

Cynthia Nedyalkova: This project should not happen if we want it to come to life in Bulgaria

Hello, Cynthia! You have been following the Rusgeocom case as a citizen from the very beginning. And today you are before the Administrative Court in Varna. What do you expect from today’s meeting?

– I expect the judge to finally see, to understand how dangerous this investment proposal is. With his heart and mind, without being influenced by anything else, to decide in favor of people’s lives. We are few here, but this applies to everyone.

During the last week you searched for and published expert opinions, you talked personally with the hydraulic engineer Dimitar Shterev about the problem. Have your fears been confirmed?

– They confirmed. And Eng. Shterev is adamant that the water will be poisoned and that lakes filled with wastewater from the activity could overflow. In addition, earthquakes could occur. Some of the water will disappear and another will be poisoned. There is no way that accidents with 43 perforations won’t happen, no matter how perfect they are. Reading their report, they say that in the geological discovery where they will intensify the extraction there is danger of radioactivity. Dimitar Shterev states that these shale rocks, which cover the aquifer known as Malm-Valange, do not currently emit radioactivity. But if they are destroyed or pierced by a probe, they will release radioactive materials. The investor recorded “abnormal radioactivity” in his geological discovery. They wrote that they would step up the layers. I asked them during the public discussion of the report: Does escalation mean fracking? The answer was yes. They admit it. And in our work we tell stories of 1001 nights. This project should not happen if we want Bulgaria to come to life.

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Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations

The project “Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations” shall be implemented with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. The main goal of the project is to improve citizens’ awareness of the role of non-governmental organizations in society. This material is established with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area. The whole responsibility for the content of the document is held by the Public Environmental Center for Sustainable Development and under no circumstances can this material be considered to reflect the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria.