Exxon sells shale gas licences to Polish refiner PKN

WARSAW Fri Dec 7, 2012 7:05am EST

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WARSAW Dec 7 (Reuters) - U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil agreed to sell two shale gas exploration concessions in Poland to the country's top refiner PKN Orlen for an undisclosed price, the groups said on Friday.

Exxon dropped its exploration plans in June after test wells failed to produce commercial quantities of gas, dealing a blow to Poland's hopes of becoming a major producer of the non-conventional gas.

The local shale gas industry was eager to know what would happen with the U.S. group's six concessions. It has to date relinquished three and, after the completion of the deal with PKN, will still have to decide on the fate of one.

The deal, subject to approval from the environment ministry which handles exploration permits in Poland, marks PKN's growing leverage in developing resources that could help Poland cut its dependence on Russian supplies.

It will increase the number of PKN's shale gas exploration licences to 10. The group plans to allocate up to 5.1 billion zlotys ($1.6 billion) on exploration projects, mainly shale gas, in the years 2013-2017.

PKN and another state-controlled group PGNiG stand at the forefront of Poland's shale gas drive.

Central and Eastern Europe's largest economy relies on Russia's Gazprom for more than half the gas it consumes. Warsaw wants commercial production of shale gas to start as soon as possible so it can limit this dependence.

Poland had high hopes for shale gas after a U.S. study from 2011 estimated Polish reserves at 5.3 trillion cubic metres, enough to cover domestic demand for some 300 years.

But estimated reserves were slashed to about a tenth of that in a government report published in March.

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