On 9 July the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development will decide on a USD 60 million loan to Serinus Energy for a project to develop four oil and gas fields in Tunisia, which is also likely to include drilling for shale gas. Twenty groups in Tunisia and Europe are calling on the EBRD to reject the loan or at least postpone the decision until further studies are prepared.

The EBRD announced that the loan would finance “a multi-year continuous drilling programme, including the stimulation of existing wells and the drilling of new production wells, securing dedicated drilling and service rigs.” However it makes no mention of shale gas, even though in the last year precisely these four fields covered by the project (Sabria, Chouech Essaida, Ech Chouech and Sanrahr) were found to contain shale gas reserves.

While the EBRD depicts Serninus Energy as a „small private independent company in Tunisia,” Serninus Energy is simply the new name of Kulczyk Oil Venture, a subsidiary of Luxemburg-based Kulczyk Investments SA, founded by Polish entrepreneur Jan Kulczyk, the richest man in Poland according to Forbes. In the first quarter of 2013, Kulczyk Oil doubled its net earnings, and the company already fracks for shale gas in Ukraine.

Plans to develop the four fields to be financed by the EBRD include fracking in one of the fields, and possible horizontal wells – likely a prelude to fracking – in two others.

The exploitation of shale gas could have disastrous consequences in a country like Tunisia that faces a serious scarcity of water. Additionally the type of shale identified in the region is known as 'hot shale,' meaning that the underlying rock is radioactive. Also one of the concession is located in a sensitive area considered to have unique hydrological potential for the region and proposed for the UNESCO World Heritage List. Developing fracking here could irreversibly damage the area.

In spite of these concerns, the EBRD classifies this project as “category B”, meaning its potential impacts are not considered significant enough to require a full environmental and social impact assessment processes.

In a letter sent last week to the EBRD Board of Directors, twenty civil society organizations asked the bank to reconsider its support for Serinus Energy, citing the opposition to shale gas by movements in Tunisia and that a loan supporting a company that extracts unconventional resources would undermine the tenious legitimacy of the EBRD in Tunisia.

Anne-Sophie Simpere, from CEE Bankwatch Network, said: Tunisia will not benefit from this investments: three of the concessions are 100% owned by Serinus Energy, the company is proud to announce that Tunisia offers highly attractive fiscal termsand the EBRD does not provide any information on the job creation expected. Serinus-Kulczyk Oil is a wealthy company that does not need public support, especially not to exploit fossil fuels, or dangerous unconventional fuels!”

“The EBRD extended its mandate to the North Africa region with nice rhetoric about support so SMEs, job creation, renewable energy and energy efficiency,” continues Simpere. „Yet, until now, the Bank seems to be rushing forward and comes up with dodgy projects poorly evaluated, for the sake of being present in the region. It cannot support a project that has a shale gas component without a proper evaluation and in a country where it is clear civil society is opposing unconventional fuels. It does not respect its own priorities nor the spirit of the revolution, and gives a terrible image of Europe and international institutions to the people in Tunisia.“