Fossil-fuel reliant Algeria has announced that it intends to tap into its shale gas reserves, which stand as the third largest in the world, which would then supply the European gas market. To this end, Algerias hydrocarbons company, Sonatrach, has entered into agreements with a number of multi-nationals, including Shell, ENI and Talisman. A hydrocarbons law amended in 2012 has made it easier for foreign companies to invest in the shale gas sector, allowing for tax breaks and variable royalty taxes. The first wells were drilled in 2011 in the Ahnet basin near Tamanrasset. Shale gas mining (otherwise known as fracking) has been controversial because of the large amounts of water it uses and the potential for toxic chemicals used in the process to leak into and pollute groundwater and aquifer reserves. Algerian environmentalists are concerned that water sources in an already water-scarce country will be further strained through the use of large amounts of water in the process and potential pollution. Injecting 15,000 cubic metres (530,000 cubic feet) per well, with a well every 100 metres (yards), is catastrophic for a country with such water scarcity, said Chems Eddine Chitour, director of fossil energy development at Algiers Ecole Polytechnique, as quoted in one newspaper report. The Algerian Solidarity Campaign has urged decision-makers to take into consideration citizens basic rights to water, noting that while water shortages remain a major grievance, the drilling method requires 15 to 20 million litres of water for each fracturing, equivalent to the average daily consumption of 40,000 people city. Fracking has been banned in some countries in the European Union such as France and Bulgaria, and there are concerns about European energy companies operating in developing countries. Experience shows that risks can significantly increase in countries where the capacity for implementing and enforcing environmental and health protection is generally lower. It is likely, based on the experience of industry behaviour in other fuel related activities, that it will contribute to further environmental degradation, corruption, human rights violation, or social conflicts and that it is unlikely to contribute to poverty reduction, said a Friends of the Earth Europe report. On March 9th, 2013, the Algerian authorities passed amendments to the Hydrocarbon Law, which opened the way to the exploitation of shale gas in Algeria. This law was approved in a climate of total opacity and groups have mobilized in response, networking with anti-fracking groups in London and local activist networks built at the recent World Social Forum in Tunisia. The President of Algeria Solidarity Campaign, Hamza Hamouchene, signed a collective solidarity statement alongside more than 80 organizations across the world.
In January 2015, large-scale demonstrations spread to Algiers from the Sahara after the Algerian government announced that the first shale gas well by Total would be drilled in Salah. Tens of thousands of Algerians took part in protests across the country, calling for national dialogue and a halt to all shale gas operations. The government's initial response included forcefully dispersing a sit-in in Algiers and arresting around 12 participants, as well as banning a protest on January 17th. Clashes with the police took at least one life--21-year-old Mohamed El Noui died during a protest on January 4th. However, as of January 27th, 2015 Algeria announced a moratorium on shale gas exploitation until at least 2022 with potential for a complete scrapping of the plans.
Prime Minister Sellal announced the decision on state television, saying "Between shale gas and water, the Algerian people will choose water; you think the Algerian state would be crazy enough to endanger the lives of its citizens?" (Middle East Eye).
Despite these announcements, anti-fracking demonstrations have continued. Many people reportedly fear that the government's promises now are hollow; Prime Minister Sellal had previously stated in July 2013 that no actual fracking would take place until 2024, and that current drilling was just part of necessary surveys.