Polish authorities, industry slam shale EIA proposal; A Polish village says ‘no’ to fracking

Polish authorities, industry slam shale EIA proposal by ENDS Europe, July 24, 2015
Some Polish shale gas companies are gearing up for a rush of drilling ahead of possible changes to the EU’s environment impact assessment (EIA) rules. A proposal by the European Parliament’s environment committee to include shale exploration, evaluation and extraction in the revised EIA directive will face stiff opposition from Poland at the Council of Ministers. The European Commission will table further proposals by December on environmental protections in relation to shale. Such proposals could also run counter to the current rules in Poland, the EU country where shale development is most advanced.
Poland recently relaxed its EIA rules for shale gas exploration, exempting drilling of up to 5,000 metres if it is away from dwellings and drinking water. This effectively exempts almost every exploratory well in Poland. Companies drilling for gas on roughly 100 concessions along Poland’s ‘shale gas belt’ from Gdańsk to Lublin could ramp up their activity to take advantage of the local regime while it lasts. “Before [EU changes] happen, we have a window of opportunity to gather all permits and do as much drilling as possible,” one source at a shale gas company said. But other companies active in shale exploration in Poland have had not yet decided on their next steps. The sector remains deeply concerned that EU rule changes could hamper its plans in Poland.

Changes to the EIA directive “will cause companies to leave for the US, where it’s easier to do the unconventional business,” market analyst Tomasz Chmal of the Sobieski Institute in Warsaw said. Many shale gas companies in Poland have come in from abroad. The EIA changes put forward by MEPs go too far and are not evidence-based, the Polish environment ministry said. “The environment committee proposal is imposing far stricter environmental requirements on unconventional gas projects than on conventional ones, despite the fact that the exploratory stage is almost identical in both cases,” a ministry spokesman told ENDS. … But other member states planning to exploit their shale gas reserves will not necessarily side with Poland. The Lithuanian parliament is considering a government proposal to require mandatory EIAs for shale gas exploration. In general, member states oppose prescriptive rules on EIA, as most would prefer flexibility to adapt the law to specific situations. [Emphasis added]

As Poland’s fracking future turns cloudy, so does Europe’s by Sara Miller Llana, Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 2013, Yahoo News
It was only two years ago that Poland was positioning itself at the forefront of a shale gas revolution for Europe. … But now the scenario is increasingly cloudy. Poland’s estimates of shale have been reduced, and three major energy companies, including ExxonMobil, have recently pulled out of the country after disappointing results. It’s still early, but Poland’s experience speaks to the uncertainties of the shale industry’s future in Europe. … “We are no longer as excited as we were two or three years ago” about the prospects of a shale gas industry in Europe, says Bartosz Wisniewski, an expert on the European industry at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw. And the Polish experience with fracking, if it goes badly, could sour the rest of the Continent. … Two years ago, the Continent’s shale gas seemed a great opportunity for a Europe struggling with a debt crisis, crippling austerity, and record high unemployment. Many thought that Europe could benefit as the US industry has, with gas prices that have dropped by nearly 66 percent since 2008, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). But tapping those reserves requires both political and public support for fracking, which exist at varying levels across Europe. While Poland and Britain have supported the initial stages of an industry, Germany and France have been more resistant. Beer producers in Germany recently sided with anti-fracking advocates, claiming that the process will pollute ground water. France, which could have some of the greatest sources of shale, has outright banned fracking since 2011. “The debate on shale gas has gone on for too long,” French President François Hollande recently said. “As long as I am president, there will be no exploration for shale gas in France.” …

“The desire for energy independence is strongest in Poland because they suffered a lot by Russia in the last two centuries,” says Martin Ehl, a business and energy reporter in Prague, Czech Republic. … But Poland’s initial enthusiasm has been tempered since 2011, as hurdles have arisen. EIA estimates initially showed Poland had 5.3 trillion cubic meters of gas, but Polish geological studies, using different methodologies, estimate potential at only a fraction of that.And according to the EIA’s new assessment report from June, potential has been reduced by 20 percent, in part because of more complicated geological conditions for retrieving shale gas. …
The Institute of Directors (IoD), a Britain-based business membership organization, recently published a report that was clear in its optimism about the potential of fracking by comparing it to Britain’s profitable offshore oil fields: “Shale gas could be a new North Sea for Britain.” But Britain has seen major setbacks as it attempts to develop an industry. In 2011, testing of its first well led to a series of minor earthquakes, a moratorium on fracking, and a firestorm of protest, giving rise to perhaps Europe’s best-known anti-fracking group, Frack Off.  The two sides continue to butt heads. In December, Britain lifted its fracking moratorium after the government concluded that the environmental risks of shale exploration are small and manageable. The British Geological Survey at the end of June ramped up estimates for the industry’s potential, and the government has promised a public-awareness campaign to dispel the “myths” around fracking. … Yet Frack Off says it is intent on keeping the industry at bay and preventing the possibility of water contamination and methane leaks. … “The UK and Europe have a much higher-population density than the US and that’s making a real difference,” says Katy Wales, a campaigner at Frack Off. “Large numbers of people live in every area in which the government has sold exploration licenses. That means you’ve got regional groups fighting the industry in almost every part of the country.”
[Emphasis added]

A Polish village says ‘no’ to fracking by Paul Rimple, Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 2013, Yahoo News
As greater Europe argues the potential profits and possible environmental harms of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the debate is being played out in a far more immediate confrontation in the east Polish village of Zurawlow. Here, a group of farmers and residents are occupying a plot of land to prevent Chevron, which is backed by the state, from exploring for shale gas. The people of Zurawlow once supported the proposal to drill in the “Grabowiec concession,” a gas-rich region running beneath southeast Poland, in the hope that it would create much-needed jobs in the region. But that changed when two families’ well water turned black after Chevron’s seismic tests in 2010. People researched fracking online and found evidence that contradicted what they had been told.

“We were at a village meeting with the head of Chevron Poland. He told us the chemicals they will inject into the ground will be salt and lemon juice. That’s when I realized they treated us like we were ignorant,” says Wieslaw Gryn, whose 600-hectare (1,400-acre) farm is one of the most productive in Poland.

In response, the farmers organized grass-roots resistance to the mining efforts. In March 2012, they successfully blocked Chevron from drilling an exploratory well on a plot within the Grabowiec concession known as G7, by invoking an environmental law that prohibits any kind of fieldwork that would threaten birds’ habitats during breeding season, which lasts several months. The Grabowiec concession lies within one of the European Union’s protected ecological areas. Although Chevron initially announced it would pull out of the Grabowiec concession, it returned early June 3 and began to install a fence on the G7 plot. A score of local villagers sped to the scene to stop Chevron’s contractors from working. They blocked the lot with tractors and started a round-the-clock vigil with the help of some 200 supporters, including a local priest.

The protesters claim Chevron has no legal right to set up the fence because the concession is only valid for seismic testing until Dec. 6, 2013. They maintain that neither the local nor the federal government ever granted authorization for drill testing. They also have legal documents stating that Chevron withdrew the application to drill in the concession. “We have been monitoring them for a year and a half, and always catch them with some missing documents, breaking the law,” says Barbara Siegienczuk, a print-shop owner and one of the leaders of the protest. “Now, we have checked all the documents, and they are up against the wall. It turns out they have no concession.” Chevron says it has all the necessary documents to proceed with drilling on the G7 site, yet protesters wonder why it hasn’t begun working if that were the case. … On June 26, Prime Minister Donald Tusk signed a bill that facilitates shale gas exploration by overriding the requisite environmental impact report. The law came into force two weeks later, and Chevron is expected to work on the G7 plot soon. The protesting farmers say they are fighting for the protection of their land and will not budge from the site. “I understand the consequences [of fracking]; therefore, I do not support the government’s decision,” says Father Zygmunt Zugewski, who stops by the site often to offer spiritual support. “The balance of nature can be destroyed.” [Emphasis added]

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