Poland is hoping to start producing shale gas in two years, as it begins to develop an industry that could free the country from dependence on Russian supplies and turn it into an energy exporter.
Shale gas could help the country meet its growing energy needs while meeting ever stricter climate change targets set by the European Commission.
Poland is heavily reliant on coal, which currently accounts for more than 90 per cent of electricity production. Using more gas in its energy mix would help it meet reduction requirements because gas produces roughly half the CO2 emissions that coal does.
According to the US Energy Information Agency, Poland has recoverable shale gas reserves of 5.3 trillion cubic metres. This could equate to annual production of up to 100bn cu m (bcm), said a report last month by the Kosciuszko Institute, a Polish think-tank.
To put those figures into perspective, the country consumes about 14 bcm a year of gas, 70 per cent of which comes from Russia.
The prospects are so attractive that big oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips have scrambled to acquire acreage in the past four years.
Shale gas is found in relatively impermeable rock and its extraction requires a technique known as hydraulic fracturing – or fracking. Large quantities of water and sand and small amounts of chemicals are pumped into man-made fractures in the rock.
This props open the fractures and allows the gas to flow so that it can be brought to the surface.
Estimates of Poland’s reserves are preliminary and based on old core samples. But the first wells have now been drilled and the signs are encouraging.
Kamlesh Parmar, country manager for 3Legs Resources, which “fracked” Poland’s first shale gas well, says: “The question of whether shale gas is there or not has been answered, because we’ve managed to produce shale gas from our wells.
“The issue is about the economics now, and can we do this in a way that will result in an industry being created.”
He adds: “I believe that as long as the drilling programmes go the way we want and everything goes to plan, then getting some meaningful production out of our licences should be possible in a two to five year window.”
Shale gas could bring energy security to both Poland and much of Europe.
In the Kosciuszko Institute report, Alan Riley, professor of law at City University, London, writes that even if Europe were to access just 10 per cent of its estimated recoverable shale gas reserves, that would be equivalent to one-third of Russia’s total reserves.
Unlike gas from Russia, it would be on-site in the required market area, making it very competitive against supplies brought all the way from Siberia.