Chevron is set to kick off exploration for shale gas in Romania after gaining the required permits on three blocks from the country’s Environment Ministry earlier this month.

The US supermajor plans to carry out a 2D seismic study near the Black Sea coast and drill an exploration well farther north in Vaslui county, company spokeswoman Sally Jones was quoted as saying by Reuters.

“The exploration phase has a multi-year timeframe. The results of the exploration stage will determine, in co-operation with the Romanian government, the commencement of any potential exploitation activities,” Jones stated.

Chevron has rights to explore for shale in three blocks – Costinesti, Vama Veche and Barlad – covering 670,000 acres near the Black Sea and has also acquired the concession in Vaslui for an undisclosed sum.

Though Chevron has not specified when work will start, Environment Minister Rovana Plumb was earlier reported as saying that exploration of the tracts would take at least five years before any assessment of shale deposits could be made.

Shale gas exploitation in Europe has generated controversy due to the process of hydraulic fracturing whereby water and chemicals are injected at high pressure into shale rock to extract hydrocarbons.

While Romania was initially opposed to fracking, the leftist coalition government of Victor Ponta has shifted its stance since gaining power last year and now supports shale exploration in pursuit of energy independence for the country.

However, it has stopped short of approving exploitation of shale wells amid recent protests over exploration due to environmental concerns related to fracking, which is believed to contaminate groundwater and cause earthquakes.

“To reach exploitation we need to see if we have this resource and where we have it,” Plumb said last week.

“From the point of view of the Environment Ministry there is no environmental risk in terms of exploration as the hydraulic fracturing technology is not being used.”

The ministry said Chevron plans to drill three wells at depths up to 3000 to 4000 metres in Barlad without resorting to fracking.

The US Energy Information Administration estimates Romania and neighbouring Bulgaria and Hungary could have 538 billion cubic metres of shale gas between them, slightly more than Europe’s annual consumption and enough to cover Romania’s demand for almost 40 years.