Algeria's shale gas opponents vow further protests as oil company says excavations not to halt

ALGIERS, Algeria – Protesters against Algeria’s plans to exploit its massive shale gas reserves said Monday they will carry their demonstrations to the actual desert drilling sites after the state oil company said exploration would continue.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been demonstrations across Algeria’s desert south over the possible environmental damage that could result from Algeria’s new efforts to exploit its shale gas.

With the oil and gas supplies it depends on dwindling, Algeria announced plans to drill for its plentiful shale gas in 2014, with an initial test well dug in Ahnet, near the town of In Salah.

Protests soon erupted in In Salah and have continued despite government promises there would be no adverse environmental effects to a drilling process that has proved controversial throughout the world.

On Jan. 21, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said shale gas drilling would not be the “order of the day” for several more years and the drilling in Ahnet was just for experimental purposes.

On Sunday, however, the head of state oil company Sonatrach said the drilling of pilot wells would not halt and more were planned.

“Sonatrach in a few days will start drilling a second pilot well for shale gas at Ahnet after the first one in the same basin,” said Said Sahnoun. “Calling for the end of shale gas exploration would be calling for the end of oil exploration in Algeria.”

The spokesman for the protesters, Mohammed Azzaoui, said the demonstrations would now be expanded to include Ahnet.

Algeria, which depends on hydrocarbon exports for 60 per cent of its budget, has been hard hit by dwindling reserves and the falling price of oil.