Fracking is the process of pumping a combination of water, sand and chemicals underground, forcing up reserves of natural gas that were, until fracking, pretty much unreachable. In a few short years, fracking has made the U.S. a global energy leader. It’s also been a public relations nightmare, with evidence linking it to tainted drinking water and even earthquakes.
While no nation fracks for gas as much as the U.S., the process is increasingly being globalized. In a series we’re calling “FrackWatch,” Latitude News is scanning the global press to see how the fracking saga is playing out around the world. This week Europe’s friendliest fracking nation awaits new laws, while suburbanites in Australia are growing weary of the promises of one gas company.
Where France balks, Poland welcomes
Companies looking for new places to frack are eagerly awaiting new laws about the practice in Poland — where fracking is far less controversial than elsewhere.
Attitudes about fracking have quickly soured in some corners of Europe, with legislative steps taken to ban the process in Bulgaria and France. Some lawmakers tried to pass a similar ban in Germany in late 2012, to no avail.
But the mood is decidedly lighter in Poland, where many are eager to end reliance on Russian energy. As Polskie Radio reports, almost half of Poles are no concerned about the environmental risks of fracking, as opposed to 80 percent of Europeans overall. In Poland, 46 percent say they would not be concerned about fracking near their homes. In France, that number is 89 percent.
This is probably why international companies have been exploring for shale gas in Poland, a process that has now slowed down as companies await new laws on fracking. The new rules will likely be adopted this year and take effect in 2015, says Treasury Minister Mikołaj Budzanowski.
“[The new rules] will certainly give a big impulse for intensifying gas exploration efforts in Poland,” says Budzanowski.
As Latitude News has reported, like the U.S., Poland has the right combination of legislative allowances and industrial knowhow to make fracking big business.
But unlike the U.S., Poland will tax frackers at a rate around 40 percent. As Bloomberg reports, America’s number two natural-gas producer, Chesapeake Energy Corp., has paid a tax rate of one percent over the course of its 23-year history.
“They have now been caught in a lie”
Speaking of public perception, an Australian company will likely suffer some damage to its public image after reversing a pledge not to use fracking in the suburbs west of Sydney, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
Just three weeks ago, AGL assured the public it would not use fracking in a 66-well drilling program. But now the company says it will change drilling plans it submitted to the state government, preferring instead to use fracking where necessary.
The pledge reversal leaves egg on the face of the state’s premier, Barry O’Farrell, who had defended the company’s promise not to frack. O’Farrell also downplayed “any impacts of the project on the thousands of residents who live near drilling sites,” according to the Herald.
AGL said it changed its position after an internal review, and made the decision public in the interest of transparency. Green Party MP Jeremy Buckingham calls that “a lie”:
Fracking in urban areas is a risky proposition that could pollute the air and water with methane, other gases and fracking chemicals, posing a risk to health and the environment. ‘The people of western Sydney should not be used as guinea pigs in AGL’s fracking experiments. AGL have admitted fracking 75 per cent of their existing wells [outside urban Sydney] and the permeability of the coal seams means they always needed to frack. They have now been caught in a lie.
Whatever the reason for the shift, local residents are disappointed with AGL and Premier O’Farrell and concerned about effects fracking will have on human health and property values.