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Poland shale gas exploration ambitious & environment

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The Polish Government embraced shale gas enthusiastically as a way of reducing its reliance on imported energy from Russia. However, since the launch of exploration in 2010 and 2011, the estimates have been downgraded and geological conditions for drilling have proved difficult.

The shale gas sector was originally attracted by estimates of massive shale gas reserves in Poland. However, sharp falls in world energy prices in the past few months have forced energy majors to limit spending and suspend or abandon investment projects.

Recent and planned changes in Polish regulatory framework bring hope for revival of its shale gas sector. However, it still remains to be seen whether such changes will result in a prompt development of the Polish shale gas sector.

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Exploration or extraction works ‘may potentially always significantly influence [the] environment’. As a consequence, the prospective applicant needs to obtain an environmental decision prior to applying for a licence for exploration or extraction of a mineral.

Projects that have, or may potentially have, a significant effect on the environment must first obtain a decision on environmental conditions (environmental decision) in accordance with the Act of October 3, 2008 on Access to Information on Environment and its Protection, Public Participation in Protection of Environment and on Environmental Impact Assessment (the EIA Act). The environmental decision is required prior to the issuance of the decisions listed in Article 72, Section 1 of the EIA Act including, among other things, decisions to issue licences for prospecting and exploration for mineral deposits and licences for the extraction of minerals from deposits.

The environmental decision should be attached to an application for any of the decisions listed in Article 72, Section 1 of the EIA Act within four years of its issuance The validity of the environmental decision may be extended for the following two years if the investor obtains a confirmation that the given investment was realised in stages and the conditions provided in the decision have not changed.

Procedure for the environmental decision

The procedure for issuing an environmental decision usually involves conducting an environmental impact assessment, including preparing a report on the likely impact of the project on the environment. The procedure comprises a public consultation stage in which anyone can submit complaints and recommendations within a 21-day period for review by the relevant environmental authority. The EIA Act entitles ecological organisations to participate in public consultations and to have rights as a party to the proceedings. In particular, ecological organisations have the right to appeal against a decision issued in a procedure requiring public consultation.

In the environmental impact assessment procedure, the applicant should submit its selected investment performance scenario. It should also present any possible alternative scenarios that the applicant previously considered, as well as a justification of its final choice. The authority may choose one of the alternative scenarios instead of the applicant’s choice. If the applicant does not agree to implement that alternative scenario, the authority would refuse to issue the environmental decision.

The environmental decision may require compensation or a limit to the impact on the environment or oblige an investor to present post-completion analyses.

Since the procedure for issuing an environmental decision usually involves conducting an environmental impact assessment, it is difficult to predict the timeframe for the procedure. It may take three to six months or even longer, especially if the proposed area of exploration or extraction works is environmentally sensitive.

The environmental decision is transferable with the consent of the party to whom the relevant decision has been issued.

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