Berlakovich rejects shale gas project

People’s Party (ÖVP) Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich has spoken out against plans to produce shale gas in Lower Austria.

Large reserves of the substance may be located in rocks up to 6,000 metres below the surface in the north-eastern province of Lower Austria. Austrian oil and gas group OMV AG reportedly plans to carry out exploratory drilling next year to pave the way for a possible exploration from 2020.

Now the federal minister for environmental and agricultural concerns said exploration and production procedures should not take place considering the current knowledge about the site. Berlakovich argued today (Fri) that there were many open questions considering environmental and safety aspects. Reports have it that ground water could be contaminated during exploration. He said Austria’s focus should be on renewable energy sources like solar energy, wind power and hydropower.

Experts also fear that methane could leak and pollute the air. Such occurrences would turn the potentially eco-friendly energy source into a bigger burden for the climate than coal factories. Local residents may take to the streets against test drilling and a possible full-scale shale gas exploration in the area of Poysdorf, according to the Kurier.

OMV did not comment on Berlakovich’s statements of disapproval. The company, in which the Republic of Austria has an interest of 31.5 per cent via Federal Industry-Holding Stock Corporation ÖIAG, has been searching for energy sources in Austria and abroad for decades. OMV also runs hundreds of petrol stations across Europe.

OMV is based in Vienna. The enterprise had a turnover of 16.03 billion Euros in the first half of this year, 46 per cent more than in the same period of 2010. Ex-OMV vice chief Gerhard Roiss took over as CEO in April when Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer resigned. Ruttenstorfer headed the firm of 31,000 employees for nine years.

OMV said last month it produced 283,000 barrels of oil a day in the third quarter of 2011, up from 275,000 in the previous quarter. OMV added that it sold around as much gas in the third (4.79 billion cubic metres) as in the second (4.69 billion cubic metres) quarter of the current year.

The company plans to restart activities in Libya shortly. OMV withdrew most of its employees from the North African country when it was at the brink of a civil war this spring. Chances that OMV’s Libyan business will soon be back at full scale are good following the political turnaround in the oil-rich nation.