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Pro-fracking agenda for Poland in EU presidency

Role inherited for six-month period from Hungary

POLAND has assumed the EU presidency for the first time amid speculation it will push a pro-fracking (hydraulic fracturing), shale-gas development agenda and block emissions-reduction legislation. On 1 July, Poland inherited the role, which rotates for six-month periods between EU member states, from Hungary.

“Poland can be expected to use its time at the helm of the EU to block attempts to impose regulations on fracking, or tighten carbon emission targets,” said Kash Burchett analyst at IHS Global Insight, a consultancy. Burchett said that although the role is intended to provide an impartial negotiator between member states, in practice it is treated as “an opportunity to promote one's own agenda”.

Poland has made it clear that developing shale-gas deposits is a priority and has provided an initial, low corporation tax-regime to encourage development.

And estimates of Poland’s prospects are largely bullish. The US government reckons Poland could have the largest recoverable shale-gas reserves in Europe – estimated at 187 trillion cubic feet. At the end of June, 3Legs Resources, a UK firm, said it had discovered large amounts of shale gas in Lebien, in the north of the country. Chief executive Peter Clutterbuck said he was “very encouraged” by the “excellent gas shows”, but did not specify a reserves estimate.

Economic benefits

As a country with very limited conventional gas production, these potentially vast unconventional resources could have significant economic benefits if they prove commercially viable to extract. They could also potentially eliminate Poland’s need to import gas from Russia, which provides two thirds of the country’s supplies.

Burchett said, however, that Poland’s economic concerns are “incompatible” with the wider environmental agenda within the EU. Right now, the country’s energy mix is dominated by coal, which releases around twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas when it burns.

While western European nations are more concerned about emissions, countries in eastern Europe worry more about energy security. In June, Poland applied to the European Commission for free greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions permits for 13 new coal-fired power stations.

Poland has even questioned whether using coal as an energy source contributes to climate change at all. EU Budget Commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski riled environmentalists in Europe last week when it emerged he had told local media in May that the link between burning coal and accelerating global warming was “highly questionable”.

At the end of June, Poland blocked an attempt by the EU to raise targets for cutting GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 20-30%. On 5 July, the European Parliament voted against enacting the higher target. Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, said recently that the country "simply cannot afford carbon-emissions targets".

Despite widespread economic woes elsewhere in the EU, Poland has been one of the bloc’s rare successes since 2008, recording consistent GDP growth.

And Poland recently warned the EU not to meddle in its own plans for shale-gas development by regulating fracking. This was in response to France’s decision to ban fracking and fears that similar measures could be rolled out across the EU.

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