Poland takes lead as EU’s shale gas promoter
Poland said the development of shale gas across the EU should obtain the status of "a common European project," adding that it intends to promote the development of unconventional gas during its upcoming EU presidency.
A Polish minister said that research in his country on developing shale gas (see 'Background') was advancing at "unprecedented speed" and that Warsaw was willing to share its experience "in the EU framework".
Speaking at an event in Brussels organised on Friday (6 May) by Demos Europe, a think-tank, Maciej Szpunar, under-secretary of state at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the discussion for developing shale gas across Europe was "more timely than ever".
The Fukushima disaster raised question marks over the future development of nuclear energy, and with petrol prices skyrocketing, there was a need for "innovative solutions" and shale gas certainly provided an answer to the challenge, he said.
Shale gas would also decrease Europe's energy dependence and help the EU to achieve its ambitious CO2 reduction goals, Szpunar claimed.
The Polish official said shale gas should obtain the status of a common European project, and that Poland was going to push for this goal during its EU presidency in the second half of this year.
Andrzej Kozłowski, a high-ranking official at Polish oil giant PKN Orlen, said his company had been among the first in Europe to focus on shale gas after the remarkable experience of the US in developing this unconventional fuel.
He argued that the term "unconventional gas" should perhaps be changed, as more than 50% of gas production in the US is expected to come from shale gas by 2030.
But Kozłowski said that "without legislative support on the EU side," even a large company like Orlen would not be able to meet such an ambitious goal.
'Cracking the minds of people'
Marek Karabuła, vice-president of the Polish Oil and Gas Company (PGniG), used a technical term from shale gas development, saying that there was a need to "crack the minds of people" with respect to shale gas. The unconventional gas is obtained by hydraulic fracturing (cracking or 'fracking') deep into basins containing shale rocks.
He said that despite videos circulating on social media presenting shale gas as a threat to the environment and a danger to consumers, awareness would be raised in Polish society that shale gas is "good" and "safe".
Karabuła argued that Poland would be in a much better position to negotiate the price of gas imports from Russia if it were able to crack massive quantities of shale gas at low cost.
He also explained that for the time being, despite significant interest in developing shale gas, only exploratory licences had been granted in Poland, with no production licences delivered yet. For production licences, reserves needed to be proved first, he explained.
Jesse Scott, programme leader with E3G, a UK NGO whose goal is to accelerate the global transition to sustainable development, said the proposed "European solution" for the future of shale gas was a battle yet to be won.
Scott wondered whether shale gas would feature in the European Commission's Energy Roadmap 2050, expected to be revealed in November. By the same logic, she said the EU was free to set more stringent environmental rules.
Whether or not shale gas will be taken up at European level is not certain, Scott said.
Shale gas is an 'unconventional' fossil fuel that is found within natural fissures and fractures underground. Until recently, no method of safely transporting it to the surface existed.
However, by pumping water, sand and chemicals into rock formations under high pressure via a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking', energy companies believe they have found a part of the answer to Europe's energy security problems.
The method remains intensely controversial because of its possible environmental risks, including poisoning groundwater and higher greenhouse gas emissions than traditional gas.
To proponents, shale gas represents a hitherto untapped and welcome alternative energy source to traditional fossil fuels. At the moment the continent depends on gas imported from Russia, and disputes between that country and Ukraine have disrupted winter supplies in recent years.
In the US, shale gas already accounts for over 10% of US natural gas production and some analysts predict that could rise to 50% within 20 years. BP's former chief executive Tony Hayward has described shale gas as a "game changer".
Darek Urbaniak, Extractive Industry Campaign Coordinator for the environmentalist NGO Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement that "There is a clear risk of contamination of groundwater from shale gas extraction as a result of usage of chemicals for fracturing."
"High population density in Europe as opposed to the US and the likely proximity of wells to population centres could result in certain impacts such as noise pollution, traffic, and landscape impacts being exacerbated," he added.
He also cited a recent study by researchers at Cornell University which concludes that "The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed over any time horizon".