Shale gas in Poland and Ukraine: a great potential and an uncertain future
by Tania Marocchi and Taras Fedirko
“The development of shale gas plays has become a ‘game changer’ for the U.S. natural gas market,” reads a 2011 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Once predicted to become the largest natural gas importer in the world, the U.S. are now said to become self-sufficient in natural gas supplies by the 2030s. Shale gas is natural gas extracted from an unconventional source – hydrocarbon-rich shale rock, whose low permeability does not allow for a sufficient flow of gas to the well if conventional drilling technologies are used. Instead, a technology called hydraulic fracturing combined with other know-hows is applied to create multiple fractures in the rock under pressure of a liquid so as to liberate gas from the shale and secure its inflow to the well. Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, has radically lowered the costs of shale gas extraction and fuelled the production boom in the U.S. and a number of other countries. While at the beginning of the 2000s shale gas accounted for 1% of the U.S. gas production, by the end of the decade the figure rose to 20% and continues to increase.
The advent of shale gas, which in the U.S. is cheaper than coal and imported gas, liberated vast amounts of coal and liquefied gas on the world market. European countries became interested in shale gas production as a way to diversify gas natural gas supply and reduce dependency on imports from Russia. One of the reasons why Russia’s western neighbors keenly embraced shale gas production is that Russia has on various occasions used Gazprom as a foreign policy instrument. It comes as no surprise, then, that Poland and Ukraine — who own respectively the first and the third largest shale gas deposits in Europe — has responded with optimism to the prospects of shale gas extraction that could radically change their balance of energy dependence on Russia.
Prospects of shale gas in Poland and Ukraine