ENERGY SECURITYPolish Shale Gas May Be the answer to the EU's Energy Shortage

By Jo Harper

Published 3 April 2023

Although there is currently no shale gas production in Europe, Polish energy experts say it could easily be brought back to the table to alleviate the European energy crisis.

The war in Ukraine has brought coal and nuclear power back into the European conversation about energy security. In the wake of those shifts, Polish energy experts are asking: why not shale gas too?

It is still there,” Piotr Przybylo, an energy expert from the Casimir Pulaski Foundation in Warsaw, told DW. “Poland is potentially still open to extracting it, and a revival of shale gas plans makes absolute sense.”

Exploration and production of the European shale gas reserves have been shelved for the last eight years. But with the US now among the world’s largest gas exporters thanks to the shale gas revolution, European leaders are debating whether their respective countries should change their shale gas policies and plans.

According to a 2013 study by Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), there are an estimated 14 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of technically recoverable shale gas reserves in Europe. Poland and France have the largest estimated shale gas resources in the region.

The study, based on data from the US Energy Information Administration, said shale gas reserves amount to 4.2 trillion cubic meters in Poland and 3.9 trillion cubic meters in France. Romania had 1.4 trillion cubic meters, Denmark has 900 billion cubic meters and Germany is estimated to have a reserve of 500 billion cubic meters.

About 70% of LNG imported into Poland from the US is from shale,” Przybyło said. “And this threatens the EU’s CO2 targets. The EU has wandered down a blind alley on the green transition. Basically, it panicked.”

Even with a fraction of the mentioned 4.2 tcm produced, it would still elevate the country to the major league of gas producers in the region and allow it to improve European energy security,” Przybylo added. 

The increase in natural gas prices, coupled with the fact that extracting natural gas is more affordable than supplying it from other countries, has once again brought the shale gas option to the fore.

An analysis of the potential of shale gas in Poland was carried out a few years ago, and as I understand it, the technical resources are significant, but the economically recoverable resources were significantly limited, given the gas prices at that time,” said Robert Zajdler, a lawyer in Warsaw.

Gas prices are now significantly higher which could potentially create a sensible business model for shale gas production in Poland,” Zajdler told DW.

Shale Shelved
After initial interest in exploring shale options, a combination of strong public opposition, tax concerns, regulatory delays and poor output from a handful of test wells drove investors away. Exxon Mobil, Chevron and TotalEnergies abandoned projects in Poland after their initial exploration proved disappointing.

The main reason for this disaffection is not to be found in the geological conditions of the Polish shale deposits, but in the absence of a coherent policy on the part of the Donald Tusk and then Ewa Kopacz PO-PSL coalition governments,” Przybylo said.

Back in August 2012, 111 concessions had been issued for exploratory shale gas drilling. The Polish state gas company PGNiG was one of the beneficiaries, along with foreign companies. The first drilling was positive, and in July 2013, a subsidiary of American ConocoPhillips began for the first time to extract shale gas near Lebork. ConocoPhillips said its unit Lane Energy Poland invested around $220 million (€196 million) in Poland, drilling seven wells over its three Western Baltic concessions.

Then the companies started to pack up. As of July 2017, there were only 20 shale gas concessions but no exploration or exploration drilling was done.

So far, only 72 boreholes have been drilled in the affected areas in Poland.

Technology Changes the Game
Shale gas is extracted via a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, which has been criticized for its damage to the environment by contaminating ground and surface water.

But technology has improved and drilling costs, one of the key factors behind the pullout of US firms, have come down, plus higher gas prices, all make shale gas worth reevaluating,” says Wojciech Kosc, a shale gas expert based in Poland.

Others are not so sure. They stress that shale gas in Poland and elsewhere in Europe would not be as cheap as it is in the US due to geological differences between the two regions. What’s more, public acceptance of the technology remains very low because of its environmental impact. Analysts also say shale gas won’t be able to address the current energy crisis given that projects developed now will take years to be fully implemented.

In my opinion, we are unlikely to return to shale gas on a large scale,” Zajdler said. “In the case of better extraction technologies, there could potentially be a possibility, but I assume that the gradual shift away from natural gas will mean that such investments will not be made.”

Jo Harper is a freelance British journalist. This article  was edited by Ashutosh Pandey, and it is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).