Nov 10 (Reuters) - Romania has fought hard to discover shale gas that apparently does not exist, Prime Minister Victor Ponta said late on Sunday.
Like its emerging European Union peer Poland, Romania has opened the door to companies seeking to uncover shale gas, hoping to replicate a boom in cheap energy seen in the United States.
The drive to find alternative gas resources has become more urgent since the conflict broke out in Ukraine, through whichRussia sends almost half of its gas exports to the EU.
But Poland sharply slashed its estimated shale gas reserves to about a tenth of the 5.3 trillion cubic metres that the U.S. Energy Information Administration initially anticipated.
The administration has also estimated Romania could potentially hold 51 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, which would cover domestic demand for more than a century.
"It looks like we don't have shale gas, we fought very hard for something that we do not have," Ponta told television channel Antena 3. "I cannot tell you more than this but I don't think we fought for something that existed."
Earlier this year, U.S. energy major Chevron Corp finalised exploration works at a well in the eastern Romanian village of Pungesti, after repeatedly postponing operations because of protests from local residents.
Chevron, the first company to begin exploring for shale gas in Romania, has said it was analysing data collected from Pungesti and that it aimed to drill more wells in the area. It also has rights for three licence blocks near the Black Sea.
In October, Energy Minister Razvan Nicolescu told Reuters Romania will produce more gas than it and smaller eastern neighbour Moldova consume by 2020.
Local firm Petrom and U.S. major ExxonMobil have discovered 1.5-3 trillion cubic feet (42-84 billion cubic metres of gas reserves in the Black Sea, which could become commercially viable in 2019. The country plans to tender 36 new onshore and offshore areas for exploration next year.
Romania is the third-most energy-independent state in the EU and unlike many of its emerging European peers it imports only a fifth of its gas needs from Russia. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie)