UPDATE 1-Polish PM sees approval of new shale gas law within two weeks

Wed Feb 5, 2014 10:00am EST

By Pawel Bernat

WARSAW Feb 5 (Reuters) - Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Wednesday his government would approve new investor-friendly laws within two weeks aimed at cutting red tape and regulatory hurdles that have dented the country's push to develop shale gas resources.

Poland launched a major push into shale three years ago when Tusk announced the country would seek to produce unconventional gas on a commercial scale in 2014 in an effort to wean the nation off Russian supplies.

But a 2012 report that cut Poland's estimated reserves by about 90 percent, the lack of a legal framework and some poor initial drilling results prompted Marathon Oil, Talisman Energy and Exxon Mobil to quit the country.

Tusk said the government should approve a new, more business-friendly draft of a shale gas law in two weeks and would not pursue the creation of a state-owned operator.

An earlier version of the draft saw a state operator called NOKE having a stake in each licence and able to control the investments - a proposal shale companies criticised as too far-reaching.

"Today we understand that in order to count money from shale gas, we must first of all begin to extract it," Tusk said at a news conference along with recently appointed Environment Minister Maciej Grabowski.

"We need to cut down on bureaucracy concerning shale gas exploration. To encourage exploration we have to prepare a less rigorous bill."

After winning government approval, the draft law must still pass through parliament - a process that could take a few months.

The unpredictable legal landscape and slow-moving process to implement a new shale law had made investors nervous and threatened Poland's dreams of moving toward energy independence. The former Soviet bloc nation gets the bulk of its gas from Russia.

In response, Tusk late last year appointed a new environment minister and chief geologist - moves that drilling companies say have started to thaw what they felt was a chilly business environment.

The shale industry received a further boost last month when San Leon Energy announced a successful shale test in Poland.

The chief executive of another exploration company, 3Legs Resources, said last week that three new test wells to be drilled this year should shed light on Poland's potential to develop its shale gas resources.

Environment Minister Grabowski predicted 30 new shale wells would be drilled this year, bringing the total to around 85 and said commercial production could be possible sometime in 2014.

"This year, I think at least 30 wells for shale gas will be made," Grabowski said. "To date there were 55. This year will be a turning point for shale gas".

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