* Thousands have rallied across Romania against exploration
* Company has all necessary permits for exploration
* Romania has substantial reserves of recoverable gas-US data
BUCHAREST, Oct 17 (Reuters) - U.S. oil major Chevron suspended its search for shale gas at a site in eastern Romania after opposition from local residents.
The company earlier this year won approval to drill exploratory wells in the impoverished eastern county of Vaslui and also has rights to explore three blocks near the Black Sea.
Thousands of people have rallied across Romania in recent months to protest government backing for shale gas exploration and plans to set up Europe’s largest open cast gold mine in a small Carpathian town.
In the small town of Pungesti, where Chevron was expected to begin work on its first exploration well, locals blocked access to the site earlier this week. Chevron aimed to set up the first well by the end of the year.
“Chevron can today confirm it has suspended activities in Silistea, Pungesti commune, Vaslui county,” the company said on Thursday.
“Chevron is committed to building constructive and positive relationships with the communities where we operate and we will continue our dialogue with the public, local communities and authorities on our projects.”
The Pungesti local council decided on Thursday to hold a referendum on Nov. 24 on whether to allow Chevron to explore for shale. The referendum would not be binding, and the company said it has all the necessary permits it needs for the works.
Shale gas faces local opposition due to environmental concerns around hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into underground rock formations to push out gas.
Many countries in central and southeastern Europe see shale gas as a way to wean themselves off Russian supplies, though Romania only imports about a quarter of what it uses due to conventional reserves.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that Romania could potentially recover 51 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, which would cover domestic demand for more than a century.