The Polish fracking dream looks more and more like a nightmare

Polish anti frackers. Photo credit: greensefa via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

Poland’s shale gas industry is in tatters, after the oil and gas company Chevron has said it is leaving the country, believed to have the largest shale gas potential in Europe.

In recent years, large as well as small companies have left the eastern European country, citing technical problems as the main reason.

The shale oil gas revolution in the US has meant that the country is moving closer to becoming energy independent, and cutting oil and gas imports from unfriendly countries. The US example has been used by shale cheerleaders in Europe such as UK’s Chancellor George Osborne. But creating a shale revolution might not be as straightforward as it was in the US. In Poland, companies have been struggling as geological formations are very different to those in the US. There, shale formations are fragile and easy to fracture, while Polish shale is more robust and is proving more difficult to deal with.

Another major oil company, ConocoPhillips, is now the only foreign investor left in Poland, as disappointing drilling results have already driven out Total and Marathon.

In the US, the low oil price is now starting to hurt the shale oil and gas industry, as companies are having to cut back spending.  This is also believed to be one of the other driving factors behind companies leaving Poland.

In the US, UK and other countries which want to frack for oil and gas, strong local protest movements have sprung up, and Poland is no exception.

So far 68 wells have been drilled in Poland, but none of them are in commercial production.

Analysts are now predicting that this recent setback makes it really difficult to see where in Europe shale gas could be successfully exploited. Just a few years ago Europe’s shale gas industry was heralded as rosy and optimistic. But a few years later prospects are a bit more gloomy. France and Bulgaria have banned fracking, and Germany has put in place a fracking moratorium. In the UK, which has been most active in giving shale gas companies tax breaks to kick start the industry, so far nothing has happened. And it is now becoming increasingly  tricky as Scotland has enforced an outright ban, as has Wales. Amendments to an UK infrastructure bill would mean that, in 40% of the proposed shale gas exploration areas, no drilling would now be allowed due to new environmental regulations.

Poland, which is heavily reliant on coal for electricity generation, is having to clean up its generating plants to comply with EU’s climate targets, and it is also heavily reliant on Russian gas imports. Poles want to reduce their reliance on Russian gas. They had hoped that a shale gas revolution could be the answer to both of those problems. It now seems, however, that at least for the time being, some alternatives must be explored.

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