EUROPEAN FIGHTING WITH SLATES
Wiesława Lewandowska talks with Konrad Szymański about mechanisms of fighting the trade of gas and unconventional oil, a mysterious competition in the Polish government and taking care of interests of Poland in Brussels
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: - The euphoria connected with the slate gas finished in Poland long time ago, and it had been caused by hope – about which politicians were trying to convince others – for solving energy problems we are going to face up. Now, in the region of Poland at the Vistula there is a political silence on this issue, a blissful peace, whereas in the EU forum, oppositionists of exploitation of gas from slates are becoming more active. Are they aiming at blocking this source of energy?
KONRAD SZYMAŃSKI: - The European Union cannot do it because these are membership countries which have a right to choose an energy source, which explicitly written in European treaties. Whereas the truth is that the European Union has wide competences in forming investment context for this or that energy source.
– So, it may hinder or block their exploitation very effectively…
– It may rather only hinder it, for example, investments in coal in Europe today are difficult because of social security distribution burdens connected with climate policy. And there are also many politicians, who would like to hinder the investments with such administrative burdens, and also with the financial ones, that it may turn out that they will be unprofitable.
– What intentions, what interest accompany these politicians?
– Here we are dealing with various interests. Considering the matter from the economic point of view, it seems that supporters of energy from renewable sources are more active, who think that gas can slow down the process of moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, which is being promoted in Europe today.
– Do they only care about the so-called pure energy?
– It might seem so. However, supporters of the so-called renewable sources do not consider the fact that energy, gained form them, is not stable because of nature and weather conditions which are difficult to predict. Introducing these sources into the energy system of any EU membership country is connected with the necessity of having support, which can come only through auxiliary applying gas turbines, which are the most elastic (they can be quickly switched on and off). So, supporting the very renewable sources can destabilize the European energetics. So, this today’s European fighting with gas for the sake of renewable sources seems to be particularly unsuccessful.
– We also hear the warnings that extraction of shale gas is a big danger for environment, so the gas coming from far away through pipes is much better….In fact, is it all about ecology or rather about maintaining the monopoly of the big supplier the Russian Gazprom?
– In order to slow down changes in the market, pretexts of nature character are often used. It is obvious that those who are using the gas market today, are not interested in the development of unconventional sources at all. For Gazprom, the biggest supplier of gas to the Middle Europe, the appearance of even a small amount of one’s own resources in any of the countries of this region, means restriction of the market and losses. So, it is understandable that this potentate is worried about it.
– So, you think that other pro-ecological restrictions of shale gas extraction, announced in the EU, are not necessary from the point of view of environment protection?
– I think that they are becoming more and more pretexts for settling matters which have nothing in common with ecology. After all, in the EU we have very strict standards of environment protection – protection of the quality of water, soil, air, protection from noise (being applied in exploitation of shale gas). Looking for changes, tightening these provisions is aimed today at fighting the industry of gas and unconventional oil.
– We hear opinions that the European Commission is aiming at enforcing new unbeneficial provisions which can attack the Polish shale industry appearing now.
– It seems that to a bigger extent, the European Parliament is aiming at that…The Commission suggested new provisions in the range of an evaluation of environment protection, and the Parliament is trying to tighten them through introducing new requirements, new administrative-financial burdens, which will bring consequences not only in the form of costs, but can also slow down investments. And investment in unconventional gas require an exceptionally friendly administrative context, otherwise they will become more expensive.
– Until they become impossible? Is it the purpose?
– Indeed, here one can clearly see intentions of many politicians, who do not care about environment protection, but care about hindering life of investors who want to look for gas and oil in Europe, from unconventional sources.
– How big clout in the European Parliament is owned by opponents of shale gas?
– In this matter we have a deep division – nearly half and half, and it is not clear, who has the majority for today. A similar division is in the EU Council. It suggests that Poland is not the only country, which opposes to such changes. And it is not true that in the European Union a ton of opponents of unconventional gas dominates. Holland, Great Britain and Poland have a definitely positive attitude towards the perspectives of this economy branch. So, the dispute in the Union will be going on.
– What is the chance for more useful solutions from the Polish point of view?
– Everything is in our hands in fact. We must effectively oppose to various legislative changes in EU, which are projected in order to hinder life of this sector, hinder the usage of these resources in Europe. But a more serious and urgent problem is solving similar problems in our country.
– We do not hear about any dispute, the matter seems to be postponed at acta!
– There are no disputes, but despite the agreement, Poland does not have prepared law yet, both in the sphere of regulations for investments, and tax law. And this new industry requires an exceptional predictability of investment which does not exist in Poland now.
– How do you explain the fact that the government, despite enthusiastic declarations, has done very little in this matter?
– It is really very astonishing against the declared enthusiasm! It would seem that in Poland we have a universal consensus about using unconventional energy sources, whereas we can feel that there are some centres in the government which are against it and which are able to slow down the process of preparations so effectively that Poland would be completely defenceless in new negotiations with Gazprom in the year 2019, and without any alternatives in the form of its own energy sources…
– It is a strong accusation.
– Maybe, but it is difficult to find a different explanation of this strange lack of activity.
– It is similarly ‘odd’ to tighten anti-shale regulations in the European forum…
– It is difficult to understand because it is often illogical. One thing is certain: regardless of everything in Europe, the development dynamics of this industry is various. However, for me it is astonishing that Poland was the first country who declared to support this industry, and today, for example, it is sold out by Great Britain, which had been thinking over it longer, had been waiting with a strategic decision in this matter, but today we see high acceleration there.
– It is the other way round in Poland – do we have a kind of slowdown for some mysterious reasons?
– It look so. Surely we should solve these problems as soon as possible, in order to have more drillings, that is, more realistic geological material and more certainty about what scale of our reserves is. Unfortunately, today the number of drillings is restricted by unfavourable investment climate, because of the lack of the mentioned regulations.
– And if the unfavourable EU directive is added to this unfavourable Polish climate for slates?
– I do not think that the European Commission would be able to submit one prohibitive directive concerning the shale gas. After all, today the matter of shale gas and shale oil extraction is regulated by 40 various directives. There is no such practice that the EU would give directives concerning a particular technological process: one can only expect other changes addressed to various aspects of this extraction – from purely environmental problems, through matters from the sphere of work safety till the issues connected with ending the investment. An attempt of changing the directive of any investment projects of environmental influence – not only connected with unconventional energy sources – seems a key issue today.
– A key issue for Poland?
– Yes. And we should control these changes very carefully. For, it may turn out that the Western Europe, which has already made such investments, will carelessly decide on regulations which are very difficult for investors. And the project of such changes is a subject of works of the EU Council and the European Parliament. Luckily Poland is not lonely and many countries have similar objections.
– However, there are also strong opinions about insufficiency of the currently biding regulations and the need of tightening them. Do the currently binding provisions and European regulations are quite sufficient in your opinion?
– Surely, yes.
– Because of social consultations about the shale gas carried out this year, 66 per cent surveyed EU inhabitants expressed their attitude for the shale gas extraction. Whereas the European Commission defined that 64.2 per cent of voters were against the shale gas extraction. What does it mean?
– From the beginning the investigations of the Commission were very tendentious, sociologists defined this survey as not meeting the standards of these investigating works. The results of these investigations show that Europe has not got one opinion in this matter. If the European Commission wants to make a conclusion from these investigations, it should think over it three times before it takes a legislative action. Countries should have an absolutely full right to decide about their future of energy and resources. In my opinion, the Commission has not got any essential role to play here. And, despite the fact, I hope that this legislative process will not get out of political control.
– In Poland the MPs of the Civic Platform are alarming that the European Commission is preparing its drastic project secretly…
– The commission cannot do anything secretly. All projects must undergo suitable consultations, get to the Council, to the Parliament. So, nothing bad will happen as long as we control our interests well. I think that in the Polish debate there will be excessive emotions again.
– Or maybe we have simply an awakening of the governing party, which neglected the issue of slates?
– We are unnecessarily paying our whole attention to Brussels, because we should pay more attention to what is happening in Warsaw in this issue.
– Rather what is not happening.
– Yes. Because today the most urgent problem are not presumed regulations in Brussels, but a lack of regulations in Warsaw. Today slates are the victim of competition in the Polish government among particular ministries than secret actions of the European Commission. Today the situation in Warsaw looks more mysterious than it is in Brussels.