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Shale Gas Exploration Raises Hope, Fear In Poland

"It would be superb" if no gas is found, she said.

The pro-business government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has been fueling hopes of big discoveries, though dreams of reserves that could make Poland self-reliant for centuries have been dampened.

Reserves are far lower than originally forecast, with recoverable reserves between 346 billion and 768 billion cubic meters, according to a government report last month. That is enough to fully satisfy the country's gas requirements for about seven decades.

Backers point out that rough estimate is based on pre-1990 figures and will likely change as companies reach gas deposits and analyze their commercial viability.

It is still a few weeks before the value of Szymkowo's deposits, trapped in porous shale rock some 4,200 meters (13,780 feet) underground, can be assessed. The exploratory well is now 2,957 meters (9,700 feet) deep and drilling is progressing at some 7 meters per hour around the clock.

"What we are hoping to find is that this operation will be commercial," said Phoebe Buckland, of Talisman's Corporate and Investor Communications.

"But it is early days and we are still in the piloting phase," she said Thursday, during a visit to the concrete-paved 3-hectare (7.41 acre) site surrounded by fields still muddy after winter snows.

Talisman has drilled two other test wells in Poland and is still analyzing the rock samples to gauge its success.

The extraction calls for large quantities of water laced with chemicals and sand to fracture shale rock and release the gas, a process environmentalists worry contaminates ground water, pollutes the air, and even causes ground tremors. But, the energy companies insist the technique is safe.

"The technology we are using here is completely safe and there is no possibility for any contamination," said Jadwiga Swiecicka, spokeswoman for Talisman in Poland.

The company held meetings with local authorities and with residents before the drilling and has faced "a mixed approach, often skeptical," chiefly due to water safety concerns, she acknowledged.

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