Algeria Backtracks on Shale Gas Plans After Protests

January 21, 2015 Updated: January 21, 2015

ALGIERS, Algeria—Algeria’s prime minister announced Wednesday that plans to drill for the country’s abundant shale gas reserves have been scrapped.

The announcement in a television interview came in the wake of a string of protests in the southern desert cities over environmental concerns near where drilling had already begun.

“I confirm that the exploitation of shale gas is not the order of the day as for now Algeria has sufficient reserves of conventional energy to meet its needs,” Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said.

Despite high profile announcements in December that drilling had been authorized, he added that the initial drilling near the town of In Salah had just been “experimental.”

He said the studies would continue for at least four more years to evaluate environmental and technical considerations.

Soon after the drilling began, rare protests erupted in nearby In Salah and spread to other southern cities in Algeria, principally over fears the scarce water supply would be contaminated.

“Between shale gas and water, the Algerian people will choose water and you think the Algerian state would be crazy enough to endanger the lives of its citizens?” he asked the interviewer. “We are a responsible government.”

While Algeria derives more than 95 percent of its export earnings from oil and gas, its reserves are dwindling.

The country has also been hard hit by the drop in oil prices by 50 percent in the last six months.

In the face of declining reserves, the government announced in December the start of shale gas drilling. The country has the third largest estimated shale gas reserves globally.

Sellal said the country had sufficient conventional reserves to last until 2037.

From The Associated Press