In July, Chevron abandoned its plans to drill for gas in Zurawlow, Poland, after farmers and families from Zurawlow (and four nearby villages) blockaded a proposed shale drilling site with tractors and other pastoral machinery for 400 days. Now, that victory is inspiring other Poles to fight back against the fracked gas industry.
According to a soon-to-be-outdated Polish Geological Institute study in March 2012, estimated recoverable shale gas beneath the country’s surface is estimated to be between 346 billion and 768 billion cubic meters. That makes Poland the third-largest shale-rich country in Europe and can supply the country with gas for between 35 and 65 years. Recently, however, test wells have not performed as well as expected or have suffered from regulatory delays. As a result, Seven of 11 foreign investors (including Exxon, Talisman, and Marathon) have pulled out of the area and environmental protests have impeded drilling plans.
With falling oil prices, a continued supply of cheap coal, and the EU increasing cost-effective renewable energy power, the shale industry needs quick and positive results. 2015 will be a “pivotal” year for Polish shale exploration companies, according to Shale Gas Europe. Unfortunately, positive results means allowing companies to drill 5,000 meters into the ground without proper environmental risk assessments—and still, analysts blame regulatory hold-ups. In protest, people in Tomaszów Lubelskim, home to a protected forest of Europe’s gold-standard Natura 2000 and a proposed Unesco biosphere, are not happy. Slawomir Damiluk, a farmer in nearby Rogow, says that after seismic testing, roads are damaged and people’s houses have cracked walls, which mirror recent concerns of shale-rich areas of the U.S.A.
In addition to all this industry takeover, some people believe their phones were tapped. “Once, I heard several people talking on the line and a male voice asked ‘are we going to tap this woman’s phone too?’ I was terrified and passed my phone to other protestors who heard the same voices. After that, my mobile phone turned off,” she said. -via The Guardian
Meanwhile, of course, Chevron spokesperson Sally Jones says: “Chevron respects the right of individuals to express their opinions, however it should be done within the law. Chevron remains committed to building constructive and positive relationships with the communities where we operate.”
A common theme in the shale industry is to avoid accusations, use vague language, and convince everyone that everything is awesome. When that doesn’t work, it’s time to buy people out. Villagers allege that after one woman’s well water was polluted during the same time as seismic testing was being conducted, Chevron sponsored a building renovation and she stopped complaining. In the U.S., those opposed to the shale industry call these “gag orders”. Shortly afterward, a local protest leader dropped out and took up work as a Chevron security guard, leading people to believe he’d been bought off.
To ensure people won’t question their motives and to look like the “good guys”, shale gas companies often donate to charities and sponsor town events. For example, in southeast Poland, they provided charity services to villages at Christmas and gave candy and fluffy tigers carrying Chevron logos to residents’ children. Not only are they polluting our environment, but their polluting the minds of children by bribing them like cheating spouses. To go further, a company statement says:
“We demonstrate our commitment to the communities where we operate by creating jobs, employing local workforces, and developing and sourcing from local suppliers” -via The Guardian
Resident Maria of Susiec, near the exploration well, said of Chevron: “It’s one big scam. Nobody informed us about what’s happening. The ex-mayor was useless. He just promised work for everyone but there was nothing. We are not going to work on the well. The people who have agro-tourism businesses know that it’s not beneficial as the environment will be destroyed and people won’t come here anymore.”
Maria’s sentiments and spreading fears that one of Poland’s last remaining swathes of biodiversity could be damaged have led to increased local opposition to shale gas drilling and fracking. In Pomerania, toxic waste from gas wells was supposedly dumped in a rural stream and people believe that water tainted by silica sand from drilling may have entered the Radunia River used for supplying water to Gdansk, the birthplace of Poland’s Solidarity movement—I don’t even need to make that into a clever metaphor.
Naturally, the Polish environment ministry denies that the drinking water was ever put at risk. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the ministry officials are taking large donations and lining up cushy jobs as future gas executives. Corruption has a way of spreading. Hopefully, though, the fight to ban fracking spreads more quickly. It seems Poland is on the right track.
Images via Shutterstock, and GreenSefa on Flickr Creative Commons