Poland has the same kinds of natural gas shale formations we have here in Pennsylvania. Many Poles hope hydraulic fracturing technology and the resulting release of natural gas will bring the country energy independence and a financial boom, but also like here in Pennsylvania, a number of Poles have a not-in-my-backyard attitude toward the developments.
Lesniowice is a small rural town in the Southeastern part of the country, about 20 miles from the Ukrainian border. It’s a mostly agricultural community, the kind of place where elderly women wear babushkas and ride bikes on dirt and gravel roads to run their errands. Everyone seems to know each other. And it's here that Chevron conducted a test drill for shale gas earlier this year.
Wieslaw Radzieciak is the Mayor of Lesniowice. He says he’s thrilled that gas companies might come in and generate economic activity.
"There are other advantages that are discussed in detail between the municipality and the company, and at this moment I think those advantages are going smoothly," he said in his office.
Grazyna Bukowska is the spokesperson for Chevron Polska. She said the company has good relations with most of the communities where it's exploring for gas.
"We are financing the renovation of the village cultural center in Juradowskie, in Lesnowiece municipality, where the local residents meet for community activities and near to where our G6 well pad is situated," she said.
Legislation hasn’t yet been drafted to determine how local governments will be able to regulate shale drilling or how the community will share in the profits. The long-time mayor believes his community will ultimately benifit. He envisions improvements to roads, schools, and the water and sewer system. And he says the young people who leave the community for city life might be more inclined to stay if there are promising jobs.
"We only can keep our fingers crossed that there will be gas here, and the companies will find it profitable to actually explore it, and at further stage, it will be possible to talk about advantages and gains and profits," he said.
When Chevron was conducting its test drill, the amount of natural gas trapped in the shale was projected to provide Poland enough power for the next 300 years. But a recent study, released by the Polish Geological Institute, says the reserves are more likely to generate enough power for only the next 30 years.
Marcin Zieba is the General Director of The Polish Exploration and Production Industry Organization. It represents 22 of the oil and gas companies working in the country. He says that despite the lower estimates, he believes the companies will continue their exploration.
"Now, I hope that Poland will be maybe not the shale gas empire but at least one of the shale gas producers," he says.
Being just a producer would be okay with the Mayor. He believes the natural gas technology is safer than coal production and less damaging to the environment for the 4,000 people inhabiting the greater Lesniowice area. Most of them live on farms – growing wheat and other grains.
One of them is Matgoizata Dzealziclia. She says she understands the need for energy production, but she wants it to be safe….and a good distance from her home. A test drill was sunk into the ground a ten minute walk from her family home and her yard occupied by chickens, a dog and other animals.
She said she learned about the drilling only when the trucks started rolling by.
"I am against it, no one asked us about it; that’s one thing. No one asked what we think about it, there were no meetings, no information from the local government, and we think that it is dangerous," she said.
Dzealziclia has lived her 40 years in this community. When she raised questions about the drilling and complained about the incessant noise, she said she was ostracized by her neighbors, and her teenage daughter was bullied. She says other people share her concerns – but only privately – and they are afraid to speak up.
When I approached some of her neighbors, they too griped about the constant traffic and drilling noise and how their land might be affected.
But they were not willing to share their names on tape, fearing government retaliation.
That, she says, is now the atmosphere in her community. And it's enough to make her think that if gas drilling grows into a major industry, she’ll have to leave.
"There are maps that show where the gas is available, and we will go where the gas is not available, outside of the borders of these deposits," she said.
It will be at least a year, if not longer, before the residents of Lesniowice know what their economic and environmental future will hold.
Their local government is exploring other ways to produce energy. There are three windmills and talk of bio-gas plants. And there are hopes for European Union funding to install solar panels on private houses.