Poland Proposes Restrictions to Shale Gas Opposition
In preparation for its exploitation of shale gas, the Polish government has proposed new legislation which environmental campaigners fear could effectively eliminate the possibility of organised opposition.
Under new provisions introduced by the Ministry of Environment, which will form part of Poland’s legal framework for the planned extraction of shale gas, environmental organisations will only be able to participate in administrative procedures informing decisions on new investments if they have been active on the issue for at least twelve months before the procedure begins.
This will mean that community groups and organisations which have only just formed in response to the government’s new hydraulic fracturing – or ‘fracking’ – plans will be unable to participate in decision making processes that directly affect them.
Environmental organisations are concerned that the Polish government is introducing this legislation specifically to push through with plans to exploit shale gas in the country with minimal opposition and minimal regulation. Opponents say that the Polish government fears that future EU regulation, informed in part by the European Commission’s public consultation on unconventional fossil fuel extraction (due to close tomorrow) will impose firmer regulations which may restrict Poland’s planned fracking activities. By moving forward before the EU imposes its own regulations, and by silencing its internal opposition, Poland hopes to have a freer rein to exploit its shale gas deposits.
Environmental campaigners have questioned why such measures to evade regulations on environmental protection should be necessary if the risks involved with shale gas extraction are insignificant. These fresh concerns follow last year’s reports that Polish environmental campaigners are operating in a ‘climate of fear.’ The Polish Climate Coalition, the largest coalition of environmental organisations within the country, condemns the move as an abuse of civil rights.
“Local communities, which create local NGOs, cannot be excluded from participating in decisions concerning the environment they live in,” says Marta Majka Wiśniewska from the Polish Green Network, a member of the Polish Climate Coalition. “There is nothing wrong about organizing yourself for causes that are important for you. Inhibiting social control and taking decisions about standards of life of citizens without asking for their opinion is against democracy and transparency.”
According to Ola Antonowicz, also from the Polish Green Network, civil society participation within Poland is already low by EU standards. “Only a few people get actively engaged in environmental organisations and they often do so only when there is new investment potentially theatening their well-being.” It is likely that the proposed new legislation will further lower civil society participation in the country.
“This is deeply worrying for Europe and the international community as a whole,” says Lucy Patterson from campaigning network Push Europe. “It completely undermines the right of Polish people to voice concerns about issue as potentially socially disruptive and environmentally devastating as fracking. Poland will facilitate the UN climate talks this November in Warsaw; how can we expect progress to be made in a country that puts the fossil industry’s corporate profits before the rights of its own people?”