ON NOVEMBER 25th, fracking experts from across the continent will convene in Warsaw for the Shale Gas World Europe conference. The gathering is a reminder of the heady days, just a few years back, when the Polish government promised to wean the country from dependence on Russian fossil fuels by imitating America’s successful exploitation of shale. Poland would become “a second Norway”, as Radek Sikorski, the former foreign minister, put it in 2010. All that was needed was to open the country to foreign drilling firms, set up a regulatory and profit-sharing structure, open the taps, and watch the methane (and the dollars) flow.
Four years later, those dreams are sputtering out. International companies are fleeing Poland, government efforts to create regulations for the sector are flailing, and while a few test wells have been drilled (including the one pictured above, in the eastern village of Grzebowilk), they show disappointing results.
“It’s clearly developing below expectations,” says Pawel Poprawa, an oil and gas expert at Poland’s Energy Studies Institute, an advisory firm. Mr Poprawa puts much of the blame on a “slow and incompetent” bureaucracy, which has made life difficult for gas prospecting firms. Despite years of government promises, Poland’s administration is one of the most sluggish in Europe.