WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) — When it comes to natural gas exploration, the United States and Bulgaria might as well be on different planets.
While the United States weighs the pros and cons of exporting natural gas to other countries, Bulgaria remains almost entirely dependent on Russia's energy sources.
And while drilling is a major industry here, especially in the Marcellus Shale, Bulgaria's government has banned fracking.
Despite the differences, researcher Atanas Georgiev sees in the United States — particularly Pennsylvania — what could be possible in his southeastern European homeland.
Georgiev, assistant professor of economics at Sofia University in Bulgaria, spent the past month researching the economic impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling in Allegheny and Washington counties. By the end of his stay, he concluded that natural gas drilling in Bulgaria would "definitely be beneficial" from an economic perspective.
Georgiev toured a Range Resources drilling rig, spoke with professors and researchers at University of Pittsburgh, and met with officials at the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, Clean Water Action and Public Utility Commission to better understand all angles of the drilling discussion.
"The biggest difference between the states and Bulgaria is the way mineral resources are managed," Georgiev said while dining at a restaurant in Southpointe in late May. "Here, as I understand, most of the people who own the land own the mineral resources below the surface. In Bulgaria, all the mineral resources are owned by the state."
As a result, Georgiev said, landowners in Bulgaria would be left without the monetary benefits that leaseholders receive in the United States.
Georgiev, a doctoral student researching public utilities in Bulgaria, became interested in Marcellus Shale after reading about the positive economic impacts of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, where about 20 percent of the nation's natural gas is produced.
Georgiev said he can't give an opinion on the environmental impact of Marcellus Shale because he is not a scientist, but he would like to see more research on the topic. He said he was surprised by the lack of studies on the industry in Pennsylvania.
"This frustrates me, frankly, because I expected more on this issue here," Georgiev said. "I thought that since this is one of the states with the most developed industry, it would have been already researched."
Citing the economic growth in Western Pennsylvania, Georgiev said hydraulic fracturing could help Bulgaria achieve independence from Russia, create jobs and generate taxes.
Bulgaria's government declared a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in 2012 and revoked the nation's first shale drilling permit, which had been granted to Chevron.
Aside from the fracking ban, other issues that stand in the way of energy independence for Bulgaria include weak enforcement of environmental regulations, outdated drilling technology and the emigration of engineers to countries offering higher-paying jobs, Georgiev said.
Georgiev said he will continue to research Marcellus Shale and hopes to share his findings with interested parties in Bulgaria.
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com