Fracking in the European Union

Poland may have western Europe’s largest reserves of shale gas. A dozen global gas-exploration companies have promised to drill as many as 120 test wells over the next few years to find out. The prize could be trillions of cubic metres of gas. It is “a huge and expensive gamble”, says Tomasz Maj, the head of Polish operations for Talisman Energy, one of the exploration firms….But the extraction of shale gas is controversial. It requires fracking: blasting fissures in subterranean rock and pumping in water and sand, and occasionally nasty chemicals, to force out the gas. France won’t do it. There is local resistance in the Netherlands. Yet other countries’ qualms may make fracking more attractive for Poland. If others won’t frack, they will probably buy Polish gas.

European energy policy is in turmoil. Germany decided last month to abandon nuclear energy. A referendum in Italy on June 12th also said “no thanks” to nuclear power. Reliable sources of energy are inadequate to meet future demand. Poland sees an opportunity.  “We’ll never be an oil state, but we could become a Norway,” says Andrzej Kozlowski of PKN Orlen, an oil company in which the government has a 28% stake. The Polish government is keen to attract firms with experience of fracking in North America, such as ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. It has awarded nearly 90 concessions so far. These are cheap, and production royalties will be low. But firms will be penalised if they fail to drill the promised test wells…Fracking is a completely new industry for Poland, so the government is anxious to get the rules right. Taxes must be low enough to encourage investment, but high enough to raise revenues. Getting neutral advice on the environmental risks is not easy. Fracking can damage the water table, disrupt communities and even cause earthquakes. (In Britain on May 31st Cuadrilla Resources said it was halting a fracking operation near Blackpool, pending investigation of two small earth tremors which it may have triggered.)

The French government imposed a moratorium on fracking on May 11th. In Britain, by contrast, a parliamentary committee was friendly to fracking. EU law allows member states to exploit their natural resources as they see fit, but subject to minimum environmental standards. The European Commission is due to roll out its long-term energy strategy in November, which could affect fracking. But Poland, whose six-month presidency of the European Council begins in July, is in a good position to influence what it says. On June 21st Poland was the only EU member to vote against a proposed tightening of carbon-emissions targets for 2020.

Energy in Poland:Fracking heaven,Ecomomist, June 25, 2011, at 79

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