Could the extraction of shale gas constitute an energy independent Poland?
Essai en anglais lauréat du concours “Shale Gas Poland 2012: The Energy Independence Conference” organisé en mai 2012 par la Fondation Casimir Pułaski sur le thème « L’extraction du gaz de schiste peut-elle conduire à l’indépendance énergétique de la Pologne ? ».
Essay on the topic « Could the extraction of shale gas constitute an energy independent Poland? » awarded for the competition “Shale Gas Poland 2012: The Energy Independence Conference” organized in May 2012 by the Casimir Pułaski Fundation.
Although Poland is far from being the most vulnerable Member State of the European Union (EU) for energy supply – its import dependency rate, all fuels included, reached 31.7% in 2009 against 53.9% on average for the EU-27 –, she is characterized by a high sensitivity to the issue of supply security. History and politics matter here more than numbers: one may indeed have assumed that due to a higher import dependency rate for oil than for natural gas, the first would receive more attention. However, the rigidities of gas trade and, above all, Russia’s position as an irreplaceable key supplier have rather cast the light on the latter, especially after the first ‘gas crisis’ in 2006.
In this context, it is not surprising that the ‘shale gas revolution’ has had a particular echo in Poland after it was discovered in 2010 that the country may sit on enormous resources which would ensure decades, if not centuries, of self-sufficiency for gas consumption. Assessments were so optimistic that beyond energy independence, Poland could even dream of becoming a gas exporter like the United States may soon turn. Shale gas would in such a case not only be instrumental in achieving a strategic goal but would also allow Poland to raise huge revenues in order to accelerate economic modernisation and smooth the short-term, adverse effects of welfare state reforms.
Yet the chances for this scenario to occur are constrained by three ranges of factors. First, energy independence is illusory if it comes at too high a cost for businesses and households to afford it. Energy is a basic input which must always be considered as a means to deliver more directly useful goods and services: if it is excessively expensive, even when available in plenty, it stops to fulfill its main function. One should therefore look closely at the total cost of shale gas extraction and check whether it is competitive in regard with alternatives (I). Second, as mentioned above, natural gas is actually not the energy source for which Poland is most dependent on external supply. Taking in account that gas-exporting countries are often at the same time oil-rich, the political objective of energy independence could hardly be met if extreme vulnerability to oil disruption was to remain intact. It is in consequence necessary to inquire to which extent natural gas, if at all possible, can substitute other sources of energy and at what price (II). Third, Poland does not evolve in a bubble isolated from the rest of the world. EU membership in particular imposes on her certain priorities that she may not share to the same degree, e.g. fight against climate change. Nevertheless, Poland is bound by EU legislation and the growing role of shale gas in her energy mix may purely and simply be not compatible with EU environmental targets, especially CO2 emission caps (III).
Lire la suite