EC begins legal proceedings against Poland over shale laws

European Union flag
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Poland got itself into trouble with The European Commission over its shale gas laws, which allow drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres to proceed without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts – EurActiv reported today.

Poland is keen to move forward with its shale extraction to achieve energy independence from Russian gas. The new Hydrocarbon Act, currently waiting for the signature of the President, streamlined the procedures required to commence drilling in an effort to attract foreign investors. Even so, several oil and gas majors, including Total, ENI, ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, and Talisman Energy, have already pulled out of Poland quoting difficult geology and legal difficulties.

Despite the support of the government, there have been voices saying that Polish shale gas exploration is moving too slowly. A recent report from the National Audit Office (NIK) warned that at the current rate it will take 12 years before the country’s shale gas potential can be properly assessed. The report stressed that while 113 licenses have been issued, only a small proportion of the territory in question has actually been explored. It is commonly agreed that in order to assess the viability of a shale play, at least 100 wells need to be drilled. So far, only 200 wells have been drilled in the whole territory of Poland, comprising many shale basins.

This explains why, in the words of Paweł Mikusek, a spokesperson for Poland’s environment ministry, the original amendment to Poland’s EIA law had been “aimed at speeding up exploration and searching for shale gas”.

“When investors which had agreed concessions and [complied with] all environmental agreements, decided after their own analysis to change their location a little bit, they needed to start the whole [environmental risk assessment] procedure again, which was prolonging the exploration process,” Mikusek argued.

What is more, in response to the EC accusations, the Warsaw government explained that an amendment to its EIA law in June 2013 already limits shale drills in ‘sensitive’ areas such as Natura 2000 sites to 1,000m.

This, however, was deemed insufficient by Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the environment commissioner, Janez Potočnik. He told EurActiv that “as shale gas reserves in Poland are located mostly at a depth 1,000-4,500m and the ‘sensitive’ areas cover only 23% of the Polish territory, the new thresholds de facto exclude most shale gas exploration projects in Poland from the scope of the EIA Directive”.

Hennon added that governments planning shale drills needed to first address “essential and relevant criteria” under EU law.

Under EU law, shale gas producers are obliged to analyse and report on factors including volumes of water used, numbers of wells created, the environmental impact of heavy truck traffic to and from shale sites, as well as the location of projects and risk of accidents. These assessments are particularly important in forests and densely-populated urban areas.

In June, Brussels sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive.

If Warsaw does not satisfy the Commission’s concerns by the end of August, the case will begin a several-month journey that could end at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

A country which chooses not to comply with the EC directives may incur a penalty.
According to Paweł Mikusek, the Commission’s letter was still being analysed in Warsaw ahead of a formal response.

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