Polish shale gas: between Russian dependency and US predominance?

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On October 10th, the European Parliament voted in favour of enforcing restrictions to shale gas exploration. This decision has opened further discussion between the EU member states about a possible novelization of shale gas exploration directive, whose aim would be to impose additional environmental requirements on concerns interested in shale gas exploration in Europe.[1] The decision is a direct consequence of the United States’ Energy Information Administration (EIA) report titled World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions Outside the United States[2], which in April 2011 sparked off a vigorous public debate in the European Union, particularly in Poland. According to the document, the shale gas resources on Polish territory were estimated at 187 trillion cubic feet, meaning that Poland could be the richest in natural gas European country, except from Russia. The EIA report not only revealed huge deposits of natural gas in Central Europe; it also brought into the daylight the tensions related to energy geopolitics on the European continent and showed that the energy security is still a competency of the European Union individual state members and not an integrated part of the EU internal market. It also provoked a more vigorous discussion about the raising importance of unconventional natural resources, changes on the US energy market related to increasing exploration of shale gas as well as about the role of the EU’s key natural gas provider, Russia.[3]

Global-Shale-Gas-Basins

 Global Shale Gas Basins, Thomson Reuters[4]

At the beginning of 2011, the Polish political elites hoped to repeat the United States success in increasing use of shale gas. Since 2007, the exploration of shale gas in the US has increased notably from 1% of natural gas production in 2001 to over 35% in 2011. If the EIA estimates are correct, the US shale gas production will expand by 113 % from 2011 to 2040 and will be the greatest contributor to natural gas production growth in this country.[5] A remarkable improvement in new extraction and drilling technologies allowed the US government to focus on achieving self-reliability and energy independence. It also sparked similar developments in Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan) and Europe (England, Poland).

Right after the EIA report was announced, oil and gas tycoons rushed to apply for the Polish government’s concession to explore the Baltic and Lublin Basins in pursuit of the shale gas. Until August 2011, the Polish government handed 97 concessions, among them, for ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corporation. The Polish government, run by central-right Civic Platform since 2007, got fully engaged in lobbying for shale gas extraction. New developments could mean gaining more flexibility in relations with Russia, from where the country imports over 61% of its natural gas supplies. [6]  It could also reduce the production of coal, the country’s main fossil fuel, and, thereby, help Poland to meet the ambitious EU climate change targets of cutting carbon emissions by 20% by 2020.[7]

The opportunity to become a second Norway meant for Poland much more than only financial profits. The country’s geopolitical situation has always been forcing the Polish government to look for a “third way” that would limit its dependency on Western as well as Eastern neighbours. This has always been one of the main reasons why Warsaw has frequently leant toward its overseas ally, the United States. It is worth mentioning that shale gas extraction gained major support also among Polish public opinion; in May 2013, 78% of Pols were in favour of gas shale exploration[8]. The rest of the European Union countries were more skeptical, only 30% of EU citizens applauded the new shale gas development projects.

In June 2013, the EIA published another report that poured cold water on some of the investors. According to new calculations, the shale gas resources were reduced from 187 trillion cubic feet to 148 trillion cubic feet.[9] In addition, convoluted taxation laws, inadequate regulations as well as a number of unsuccessful drillings forced ExxonMobil and Marathon Oil to withdraw their interest from Poland.[10]

Surprisingly, the lack of interest in Polish shale gas and apparent composure was also visible in Moscow. In one of the interviews, the Gazprom CEO, Aleksandr Medvedev, stated that he would not exaggerate the influence of shale gas and that the share of Russian gas, in gas consumption in Europe, can only grow.[11] The European Union, though for different reasons, seems to share with Russia the same opinion in regard to the shale gas exploration in Central Europe. Despite temporary crisis in bilateral relations, caused by the conflict with Ukraine and gas supply disruptions in January 2009, overall, the EU considers Moscow to be one of its most reliable exporters of natural gas. This comes as no surprise, especially having taken into account the countries that follow Norway and Russia as the main EU natural gas providers; Algeria, Qatar, Nigeria, Libya.[12] [13]

In regard to Polish shale gas, at this time, there has been only one successful extracting project in the northern part of the country. Since July 2013, Lane Energy Poland, co-owned by ConocoPhillips and 3Legs Resources, has been extracting 8,000 cubic meters of shale gas daily which is a record for Europe but still not enough to start commercial production.[14]

Undoubtedly, the shale gas exploration can be a great step forward to acquire energy diversification in Poland, which is also one of the top priorities in the EU energy security strategy. However, the Polish government as well as society should take into consideration that due to high population densities in Europe, and the potentially damaging environmental impact, the country should be more focused on developing common EU strategy towards unconventional resources exploration. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 and a recent decision of German government to close all its nuclear plants by 2022 is one more factor that will certainly keep the Polish and the EU energy security issues on the top of the EU agenda.

Photo credit: (E&T)


[1] Gaz łupkowy: decyzja PE utrudni poszukiwania gazu w Polsce, Polskie Radio Pl, http://www.polskieradio.pl/42/259/Artykul/951468,Gaz-lupkowy-decyzja-PE-utrudni-poszukiwania (Retrieved on October 14, 2013).

[2] Vello Kuuskraa, Scott Stevens, Tyler Van Leeuwen, Keith Moodhe, World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of 14 Regions Outside the United States, U.S. Department of Energy, http://www.adv-res.com/pdf/ARI%20EIA%20Intl%20Gas%20Shale%20APR%202011.pdf (Retrieved on September 18, 2013).

[3] In a document prepared by the Policy Department for the European Parliament, titled Energy Roadmap 2050: EU External Policies for Future Energy Security, the authors argue that in the forthcoming decades the United States, due to its own gas production and imports from Canada and Mexico, will become energetically independent. Therefore, it is not sure if the United States will continue to maintain its military bases in the Gulf. If it is not the case, this will have a significant impact on oil and gas imports from the North African countries to the EU. More: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/workshop/join/2012/457140/EXPO-AFET_AT%282012%29457140_EN.pdf (Retrieved on September 15, 2013).

[4] Global Shale Gas Basins – Graphic of the Day, Thomson Reuters, http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/global-shale-gas-basins-graphic-of-the-day/ (Retrieved on September 23, 2013).

[5] John J. Conti (Coord.), U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2013, http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/MT_naturalgas.cfm (Retrieved on September 16, 2013).

[6] Policy Department for the European Parliament, Energy Roadmap 2050: EU External Policies for future energy security, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/workshop/join/2012/457140/EXPO-AFET_AT%282012%29457140_EN.pdf (Retrieved on September 15, 2013).

[7] Germany puts deeper carbon cut back on EU agenda, Thomson Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/24/eu-carbon-idUSL5E8GNF3320120524 (Retrieved on September 15, 2013).

[8] CBOS: nie opada entuzjazm Polaków do gazu z łupków, Gazeta Wyborcza, http://wyborcza.biz/Energetyka/1,129200,14053558,CBOS__nie_opada_entuzjazm_Polakow_do_gazu_z_lupkow.html (Retrieved on September 15, 2013).

[9] EIA reduces Poland’s shale gas estimates, Polskie Radio dla Zagranicy, http://www.thenews.pl/1/12/Artykul/138176,EIA-reduces-Polands-shale-gas-estimates (Retrieved on September 17, 2013).

[10] Mad and messy regulation, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2013/07/shale-gas-poland (Retrieved on September 20, 2013).

[11] Sophie Shevarnadze, Gazprom CEO: Shale gas not Russia’s concern this century, RT Novosti, http://rt.com/business/medvedev-gazprom-shale-russia-947/ (Retrieved on September 15, 2013).

[12] Tim Boersma, European Energy Security and the Role of Russia, Natural Gas Europe, http://www.naturalgaseurope.com/european-energy-security-and-the-role-of-russia (Retrieved on September 18, 2013).

[13] Main origin of primary energy imports, EU-27, 2002-2010, Eurostat, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Energy_production_and_imports (Retrieved on September 23, 2013).

[14] Tomasz Furman, Justyna Piszczatowska, Płynie polski gaz z łupków, Rzeczpospolita, http://www.ekonomia.rp.pl/artykul/532645,1042586-Plynie-polski-gaz-z-lupkow.html (Retrieved on September 22, 2013).

About Author

Agnieszka Joanna Stolarczyk

Agnieszka Joanna Stolarczyk is contributor at the International Security Observer. Agnieszka is UNV Political Affairs Officer at the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). In 2014 she did a five-month internship as Security Analyst with the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre (ESISC) in Brussels. Before, she was Policy Analyst in the Spruce Grove & District Chamber of Commerce, located in the province of Alberta, Canada. Between 2012 and 2014, she was involved in the UNV Online with an NGO established in Abuja, Nigeria, called Noble Missions for Change Initiative. She holds a M.A. in Political Science and in Spanish Philology from the University of Silesia in Poland as well as a post-graduate Interuniversity Master degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from the Diplomatic School in Madrid, Spain. In 2005, she participated in ERASMUS Programme at the Department of Social Sciences, University of Grenada, Spain. Her main interests are focused on international security, international relations and EU foreign affairs. In ISO she has covered the issues related to conflicts over energy resources. She is fluent in Polish, English and Spanish.

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Article – Pologne. La révolution du gaz de schiste aura-t-elle lieu ? par Céline Bayou – P @ges Europe – La Documentation française | Enjeux énergies et environnement

  2. between shale gas and mines of coal.. the difference about pollution.. is very small so Polish action is right to reduse dependence from Russian supplies of gas. Of course at the same time polish strategy should boost wind energy and wave energy so after shale season they will have something else..

  3. Linda Majewsky on

    Interesting article. I didn’t know that Poland may have second-largest shale gas deposits in Europe. The fact is that commercial shale gas excavation would help Poland become more independent of gas supplies from abroad like it was in US. Also it would help Polish chemical companies like Pulawy Company because gas is a key resource in the process of chemical production. Here is also an interesting article about importance of drilling in Poland – http://blog.pulawy.com/en/shale-alternative

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