What do we know about the shale gas?
Exploration and potential production of shale gas in Poland is an important public debate subject. Energy sector development is still strongly supported by the public, but voices are raised to express concerns about risks and opportunities that are associated with shale gas - a new source of energy.
In order to be able to discuss the issue, it is necessary to define first the key areas of the discussion, areas of concern and to identify what information is needed by target groups. In December 2013, Millward Brown SMG/KRC carried out a public opinion research on a representative sample of 1002 Poland residents aged over 18, using CATI telephone interviewing method. The research was commissioned by PGI-NRI. Respondents were asked questions about shale gas exploration and production.
Study results indicate a deficit of knowledge and information on particular aspects of shale gas exploration and production.
Although a vast majority (88%) of adult Poles has had contact with information on exploration and planned production of shale gas in Poland, as much as one third of those interviewed would like to get more information on that subject and 14% of them have searched information on their own.
Television and the Internet are the main sources of information on shale gas issues. Those having sought information on their own more often indicated Internet as the source of information (82% of them), comparing with television and radio. They had more frequently discussed that subject with their acquaintances and read specialist publications.
Two subjects are particularly hot for the residents of Poland: environmental impact and economic aspects, but they are closely followed by the status of works and social aspects. This may indicate that awareness activities should not focus solely on specific subject areas. It is important to gear them towards providing access to information the status of exploration/production projects, according to the principles of transparency and openness.
Do we support shale gas exploration/production?
An analysis of the support to the projects, as expressed by respondents having different levels of familiarity with the subject, indicates that adequate awareness activities are much desired. By and large, 80% of those interviewed support shale gas production in Poland.
Those having heard about shale gas exploration before tend to be more supportive of the project, while 67% of those who have never heard before are against shale gas exploration in their neighbourhood. This public attitude pattern may be the reason behind the outbreak of local protests against exploration projects, as they came as a surprise to the residents and concession holders failed to provide adequate information to the local residents. This is further substantiated by responses on potential shale gas production in the area of respondent's residence. In that case, the rate of support falls to 66%, whereas objections rise to 26%.
Potential benefits/losses from shale gas production
Approximately a half of Poles believes that potential shale gas production will mean more benefits than losses both in the entire country (51%) and in the municipalities involved (49%). About 30% of those interviewed respondentów believe that potential benefits outweigh any potential risks, for the entire country and the local municipality alike. About one-fifth of them believe that balance will break even or will be slightly slanted towards the benefits. An equal number of the respondents was unable to answer the question; those believing in prevalence of damage were a minority.
As can be seen in the following graph, domestic gas production raises hopes of energy security enhancement which is mentioned by as much 37% of the respondents. Almost one-third (31%) of them expect shale gas production to bring down gas prices charged to final customers (the households); in other words, they hope for relief to household budgets. Other categories, selected by 41% of the respondents, are related to various beneficial aspects of gas production influence on the national economy: from budget savings, profit on gas sales or labour market improvements. It is important to note that one-fourth of those interviewed has been unable to indicate any benefits from the use of this new source of energy.
The results may indicate that despite a relatively high support to shale gas projects (which is maybe partly due to the favorable image of that energy source, as presented by mass media) more discussion and dialogue on this issue is required so as to enable the residents of Poland to acquire the necessary knowledge and work out a more concrete opinion.
authors: Agata Stasik, Piotr Stankiewicz