Blog: 1 April 2015Shale Gas Exploration: Lessons from Poland

Lucy Wood

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Lucy Wood

Environmental Planning Director

London office

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As the winners of Barton Willmore’s Foundation Award for Travel 2014, six of us from our national energy team were awarded funding to travel to Poland where exploratory drilling and hydraulic fracturing for shale gas has been taking place. Our aim was to gain an understanding of the decision-making process for shale gas exploration and to witness first-hand some of the exploratory sites in full operation.

Hosted by the management board of United Oilfield Services, our itinerary included visiting an operational well site, an equipment storage base and meeting with various operators to understand their experiences and how they have overcome challenges facing the sector in Poland. We also met with senior Government officials and legal advisors in Warsaw to discuss Poland’s planning and environmental permitting framework for unconventional hydrocarbons.

So after three cold, but busy, days of site visits, meetings and tours, what were the differences and similarities between Poland and the UK?

Cross-party support for unconventional shale gas exploration - Shale gas is acknowledged by all political parties to be important for Poland’s future energy security and economy. Because it is not a political issue rapid progress has been made – something that is not so clear cut in the UK.

Different public perception of unconventional drilling - As Poland is less densely populated than the UK, exploratory well sites are often in remote areas where few people would be affected. Negative public opinion therefore did not seem to be so much of an obstacle. Those we met in Poland highlighted more of an overall acceptance that energy security was vital and that oil and gas was an important part of the mix.

Different regulatory process - Environmental Impact Assessment requirements in Poland are very similar to the UK thanks to EU law, but an interesting difference is that local planning authorities are consulted at the licensing stage rather than a government department making a unilateral decision. Once a licence has been granted, gaining local planning approvals therefore seems simpler as the principle of unconventional exploration in a particular locality has already been accepted.

What was most interesting during our discussions with Polish Government was the progress of an independent study into the environmental impact of unconventional exploration and appraisal using hydraulic fracturing and we met with those involved. Monitoring has been undertaken at seven well sites over three years, before, during and after exploration and appraisal. So far, this indicates that such operations did not give rise to significant effects on the environment. Once analysed in full, the results will inform a set of environmental protection guidance notes for unconventional operations.

At the forefront of shale gas exploration, Poland was an excellent destination and the environmental research is welcome in Europe where there is a deficit of evidence of the potential impacts. We will be releasing a more detailed paper on the results of the study in the coming weeks.

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Oil and Gas, Poland, Shale