Once considered the likeliest birthplace of a European shale rush, optimism for Poland’s fracking future has all but disappeared these days. As the Guardian reports, local environmental protestors are claiming credit for the central European country’s failure to capitalize on its sizable shale gas reserves:
For 400 days, farmers and their families from Zurawlow and four nearby villages blockaded a proposed Chevron shale drilling site with tractors and agricultural machinery. Eventually, in July, the company abandoned its plans. […][I]n Tomaszów Lubelski, which is home to a forest protected under Europe’s gold-standard ‘Natura 2000’ scheme and a proposed Unesco biosphere, environmental protestors claim credit for throwing a pitchfork in the industry’s wheels.
Environmental protests are only one part of Poland’s problems. A byzantine regulatory environment has scared off most of the early movers in the country’s nascent and struggling shale industry. The country’s geology hasn’t helped, either: unlike the United States, where relatively even layers of underground rock make horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing relatively simple, Poland’s formations are crunched and complicated.Still, Warsaw boasts “some of Europe’s most favorable infrastructure and public support for shale development,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That local protests have stood in the way of drilling in a country so desperate to rid itself of a dependence on Russian gas supplies is a worrying sign for the rest of Europe, which has been eying Poland as a kind of bellwether for the continent’s future with the promising energy source. There’s even some suspicion that these local protests have been orchestrated by Moscow:
“It could be said that their actions were inspired by the government of Mr Putin,” [Tomaszów Lubelski mayor Wojciech Zukowski] said. “I don’t have such knowledge but [the protests] went hand in hand with the Kremlin’s intentions. Gas and oil are a useful tool for Russia to get involved in other countries’ energy security. It is a proxy to pressure authorities to take certain decisions along the Kremlin’s lines. It is like a political secret. Everyone knows it but no-one wants to name it.”
Whatever the origin of these green protests against fracking in Poland, there’s no doubt that Vladimir Putin emerges the only real winner from Warsaw’s shale fail.