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Romania, like many of its neighbors in Eastern Europe, may have enough natural gas locked in shale deposits to meet domestic demand for more than 100 years. But that doesn't mean it's going to produce it.
Chevron suspended plans to look for natural gas in eastern Romania last week after protesters rallied in opposition to exploration there. Romania, like many others in the region, is looking for a way to become more self-reliant in an energy sector dominated for years by Russian energy company Gazprom.
A study of the shale natural gas potential outside the United States by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that Romania holds 51 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable reserves. A moratorium on shale exploration ended in December, but concerns over fracking may cloud the country's immediate natural gas future.
On Monday, Janez Potocnik, European commissioner for the environment, said at a conference on shale natural gas in London that the long-term verdict hasn't yet been determined on shale.
"New sources of gas, such as from shale, are attractive," he said. "But we should not forget that shale gas is a fossil fuel and that our ultimate goal is a carbon-free society, which will require the development and support of renewable energies."
(Read more: Natural gas: Risks and rewards)
High-profile protests against Cuadrilla Resources earlier this year brought the European shale debate to the forefront of the discussion over Europe's energy future. Cuadrilla Chief Executive Officer Francis Egan stressed that there were understandable environmental concerns associated with fracking but said the benefits of shale exploration would soon become "crystal clear."
Potocnik argued that, while member states like Romania have a right to determine their own energy mix, they've also agreed to joint policies for Europe's future. By 2020, member states are supposed to cut CO2 emissions, increase the share of renewables, and improve energy efficiency by 20 percent against a 1990s benchmark.
To avoid dramatic increases in temperature over the long term, the commissioner said EU members need to cut their CO2 emissions by as much as 95 percent by 2050. Though some countries are doing better on specific benchmarks, no member is now within sight of the 2020 goalpost.
(Read more: Earthquakes: The result of natural gas fracking?)
"Whether shale gas becomes a success story in Europe or not, whether it is profitable or not, we need to remain consistent with our long-term strategy of a low carbon, resource-efficient economy," Potocnik said. "Just as we must do everything necessary to sustain and improve our global European competitiveness, we must also do everything necessary to live within the limits of our planet."