The European Commission has taken Poland to the European Courts of Justice because it believes Polish environmental laws governing the exploration of shale resources are too lax.
The source of the disagreement is that Polish law only requires impact assessments for drilling to a depth of more than 5,000 meters. In other words, it is possible to drill to deposits located as deep as 3 miles without assessing the potential environmental impacts ahead of time.
“Under EU law, deep drillings need to be assessed, in particular for the waste they produce, their effects on water and soil, use of natural resources, the risk of accidents, and any cumulative effects they may have with other similar projects or activities,” the commission said in a Thursday statement.
At one point hailed as “the new Kuwait”, Poland was the first among European countries to attempt full-scale shale exploration. However, after initial enthusiasm, all of the foreign E&P majors left the country, leaving only domestic companies still attempting exploration.
The situation was further exacerbated by the falling oil and gas prices.
Despite these setbacks, Polish companies seem determined not to give up on the country’s shale deposits. Late last year, in an interview with a Polish Mining Tribune, Professor Grzegorz Pienkowski of the Polish Geological Institute said he was confident that despite the departure of majors from the country, the shale extraction in Poland will successively rise in the future, to even “billions of cubic metres”.
In a spirit of cautious optimism, prof. Pienkowski said that early estimates, set initially at as much as 768 billion cubic meters of gas, were clearly exaggerated, but Poland does have technically recoverable shale gas in quantities not to be scoffed at. Granted, Polish shales are “difficult” and don’t respond well to technologies transplanted directly from the U.S., but – as prof. Pienkowski pointed out – with every new well knowledge about these deposits grows.
“The good news among all the pessimism is the knowledge that while the early estimates were greatly exaggerated, the current atmosphere of doom and gloom is also an exaggeration,” he added, concluding: “It is our belief that exploration should be continued because newer wells have better results.”
Poland’s incentive to make a go out of shale exploration is their drive to lower their dependance on Russian gas supplies. The country recently completed the construction of an LNG import terminal in Swinoujscie in a bid to diversify its supplies.
To further this drive towards energy independence, in June 2015, the European Commission offered more than $150 million in grants to support the development of energy infrastructure projects in Central and Southeastern Europe. Recent memoranda of understanding were signed with regional countries calling in part for more momentum behind the construction of what was described as “missing” gas links.
The commission has said that Poland’s plans to offer nearly $830 million in grants to nine different gas projects were in line with efforts to advance a “true energy union” by creating more connections to regional economies.
Five of the nine gas projects set to receive Polish state assistance could connect to European gas networks in the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas. The remaining four will eliminate bottlenecks within the Polish transit network.
According to a soon-to-be-updated study by the Polish Geological Institute in March 2012 estimated Poland’s recoverable shale gas reserves at between 346bn and 768bn cubic metres – the third biggest in Europe and enough to supply the country’s gas needs for between 35 and 65 years.
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