Poland's relentless shale pursuit

UNDAUNTED by its failure to date in the shale gas game Poland is ramping up its bid to entice foreign investment, with senior environmental regulators telling Energy News they're not worried about the increasing conga line of majors pulling out of European shale after an exhaustive study gave the industry the thumbs-up.
Poland's relentless shale pursuit Poland's relentless shale pursuit Poland's relentless shale pursuit Poland's relentless shale pursuit Poland's relentless shale pursuit

Keen to diversify its energy source away from Russia, Poland has been the great white hope of Europe, but recent movements by some of the world's biggest players have been cause for concern for analysts and investors. If Poland's environmental regulators had any concerns though, they weren't showing it during a private briefing at Austrade's Perth office this month.

At the briefing, Marta Wagrodzka, head of the Department of Geology and Geological Concession's Hydrocarbons Division, told Energy News the country recently simplified its laws, merging three regulations involving prospecting, exploration and production into one.

Wagrodzka said the government was not concerned about companies pulling out of countries like Romania as there were "tectonic differences" in the geology, so failure in one jurisdiction did not necessarily equate to failure in the next.

Besides, it's no secret that US supermajors have shown strong inclinations to refocus back home.

Licenses are now issued based on tender, gazetted once a year. Seismic surveys don't need a license unless it's on an existing license, but that doesn't guarantee a license for future production.

Once a company has notified the government of its intention to conduct a seismic survey, the government has 30 days to reject it on environmental grounds. Companies then have three years of exclusivity over that data.

There are currently 47 shale gas licenses awarded, including to ConocoPhillips and San Leon, while Chevron, ExxonMobil, Talisman, Total and Marathon Oil have all withdrawn from the country - with Chevron pulling out of Europe's shale scene altogether.

Those withdrawals fuelled doubts over whether Poland's shale game was the real deal, especially considering that out of the 11 foreign companies which invested in its shale gas market over the past four years, at least eight had left.

London-listed 3Legs Resources, which pulled out in September, said it "demonstrated some potential" but "could not justify committing further capital based on the results so far", suggesting low oil prices were dampening Poland's chances currently.

Wagrodzka revealed that a total of 69 mostly vertical wells had been drilled since 2010, as companies chased what the government's Geological Survey estimated to be between 346.1-767.9 billion cubic metres of recoverable shale gas in Poland.

However, in Poland's favour are the results of an extensive, three-year survey by the General Directorate for Environmental Protection which collected environmental data from research sites, evaluated the risks and impacts of the industry and polled affected areas.

The research looked into industry's "nuisance to the local community", the environment and protected areas, the effect of drilling, fraccing and flowback, and the geological structure and hydrogeological conditions.

The environmental research covered seven drilling pads on both vertical and horizontal wells from six companies, in two key areas of exploration - Pomerania and Podlasie.

The analysis showed no increase of particulate matter in the air, though there was a "temporary increase" in both concentrations of C2-C12 hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds in the air, and in concentration of gases in the atmosphere, which were products of fuel combustion.

However, the industry was shown to have "only short term impact" on the landscape. Importantly, there was no negative impact on the chemical status of groundwater and no contamination of groundwater as a result of fraccing - a key concern among the anti-fossil fuel movement and agriculture landholders in Australia and Europe where CSG and shale gas was being explored.

Water consumption at all studied test sites did not affect the status of groundwater resources, nor did it cause the groundwater level to be lowered.

While some studies in other countries had linked earthquakes to hydraulic fracturing, Poland's survey found no vibrations were registered from seismic events associated with the process of rock mass cracking caused by fraccing.

"Registered vibrations did not exceed the permissible vibration levels according to the standards for the evaluation of the harmfulness of vibrations transmitted through the ground onto the buildings," the report said.

Regarding air, noise and water, the study did reveal "potential, direct, but short-term negative impact on nature, including natural areas of high value, and the species subject to … protection".

Drilling fluids and drilling wastes "may pose a risk" - in the case of improper management - to living organisms following "uncontrolled escape to the environment".

While there have been some concerns about radiation from fraccing in the US, Poland's study showed radiation "slightly increased compared the average", but remained at the level of background radiation.

It also noted that the country's shale gas was at great depths - over 4000m - and was covered with deposits "ensuring a good natural seal, in the context of the potential migration of fluids or gas".

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