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The Warsaw Voice » Business » February 23, 2012
Business & Economy
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Shale Gas: A Godsend for Poland?
February 23, 2012   
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Poland has effective laws regulating the extraction of unconventional gas, according to a report for the European Commission. This means that preparations for the extraction of shale gas deposits in Poland should not meet with opposition from Brussels.

In April 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that Poland has 5.3 trillion cubic meters of recoverable shale gas resources. This is the largest amount among the 32 European countries where geological surveys for shale gas have been conducted. According to the EIA, these reserves are large enough to meet Poland’s demand for natural gas for 300 years. If these calculations prove correct the country could become a major player in shale gas extraction. Poland has documented resources of conventional gas of around 140 billion cubic meters. If the present rate of extraction continues they will last for around 10 more years.

Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Waldemar Pawlak has said that, for Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, shale gas may become the most important alternative to coal, leading to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and to less pollution of the environment. Shale gas is also seen as a major opportunity to change the energy mix in both Poland and the region as a whole.

According to Pawlak, fears that the European Union could ban shale gas extraction in the near future because of environmental concerns are groundless. Environmentalists argue that chemicals used in the so-called hydraulic fracturing process applied in the extraction of shale gas may contaminate ground waters. Gas industry professionals and many geologists disagree, insisting that current methods of extracting shale gas do not harm the environment.

Disputes over the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment have left not only experts, but also EU politicians, divided. As a result, in May 2011 the French parliament banned the extraction of shale gas there by means of hydraulic fracturing. Views were voiced that this prohibition should be expanded to cover the whole bloc. For now, however, such a scenario is unlikely.

An important voice in the debate is a report on shale gas in the European Union that was released in late January. The report, which was commissioned by EU officials in Brussels from Belgian law firm Philippe & Partners, focuses on the regulations and procedures for issuing concessions for drilling for and extracting shale gas in France, Germany, Poland and Sweden—selected EU countries in which such concessions are already being issued.

According to the report, there are no major loopholes in the laws of these countries with regard to granting concessions and related environmental permits, which are in many cases regulated by EU law as well. According to EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger, this study confirms that there is no immediate need to change EU law. However, the report applies to the present situation in which shale gas is not yet extracted in Europe, Oettinger said. This means that the European Commission will not block exploration projects to drill for shale gas, though it may toughen the requirements prior to extraction.

The report shows that Poland’s regulations are in many cases more stringent than those in other EU countries. For example, Poland has introduced special tenders for concessions, as recommended by the European Commission. According to the report, such a procedure is not followed in Germany. Nor are separate water-use permits required in Germany, unlike in Poland.

According to experts, the report shows that Poland has effective laws governing the extraction of unconventional gas deposits. This creates opportunities for the relatively quick exploitation of the country’s shale gas deposits, which the authorities hope will help resolve the country’s energy problems, in addition to boosting public coffers.
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