As their country dreams of becoming “the second Norway” of natural gas, scientists in Poland asked themselves whether hydraulic fracturing (fracking) stimulation of shale gas wells is safe for the environment. The answer: yes, if done according to “legal regulations.”

In a new report, the Polish Geological Institute (PGI) looked at the potential environmental impacts of fracking. While the United States is years away from becoming a global exporter of shale natural gas in liquefied form, it has apparently been a source for global frackophobia.

“Fearful news on effects of hydraulic fracturing keep coming from various places in the world, especially the United States,” the institute said. “And this is still the key method for releasing gas entrapped in tiny pores of dark, otherwise impervious Silurian shales which occur at 3-4 kilometer depths in a belt stretching from the central Pomerania to [the] Lublin region.”

Polish scientists carried out “detailed studies” of the environment and ground water in the area of the country’s first exploratory well on which full-scale fracking was performed last year. The studies took place June 13 through Oct. 13 and were conducted on the initiative of Poland’s Ministry of the Environment.

The team of specialists studied environmental conditions and ground water before, during and after the fracking. The studies were coordinated by the Polish Geological Institute and a team of specialists from various academic institutions.

The well in question, Lebien LE-2H, is 4,075 meters deep with a horizontal section 1,000 meters long. It is near Lebien in the Pomerania voivodeship. “This is typical agricultural area,” according to the report. “It is drained by the Kisewska Struga Creek. The main usable ground water horizon occurs at the depth 10 to 20 meters below terrain surface but the local population also uses water from shallower horizons.”

The fracking was performed by Schlumberger on horizontal section of the well from Aug. 19 to 28, 2011. After making holes in steel casing of well bore in 13 intervals of the horizontal section, about 17,322 cubic meters of water stored in a special reservoir in the well site area was injected into the horizontal section. Before the injection, about 1,271 metric tons of quartz sands for proppant and 462 cubic meters of chemicals were added to the water.

“The studies carried out on such scale for the first time in Poland did not show any changes in the natural environment which could be linked with the hydraulic fracturing,” the report said. “Neither methane nor radon were found. Seismic stations of the Institute of Geophysics (20 in number) did not record any shakes in the time of fracturing. Also analyses of water from the Kisewska Struga Creek and 20 water wells did not show any changes from chemical composition as found in detailed studies performed before the hydraulic fracturing.”

The studies also covered management of waste and flowback fluids. As the scientists expected, a part of the injected fluid (2,781 cubic meters) came back to the surface. In result of contact with strongly saline water and shales in the zone of fracking the fluids became enriched with chlorides and barium salts. The analyses showed increased toxicity of these fluids in relation to some groups of organisms (crustaceans and plants). The major part of these flowback fluids were subjected to treatment in a special station in the well site area and stored for reuse in fracking to be performed on other wells. The rest was treated as industrial waste fluid and sent to be subjected to specialized methods of utilization.

“All the operations carried out at the well site area were conducted in the way minimizing risk of negative impact on ground water,” the report said. “This includes recycling of the flowback fluids, storage of waste in leak-proof containers and protection of land surface with concrete plates and liners made of plastic firm.”

Further, the report said the use of large quantities of water in fracking operations did not result in a decrease of ground water resources in the Lebien well area. This was due to the fact that water was being gathered in a leak-proof reservoir for several months, in quantities consistent with a water rights permit.

Along with France, Turkey, Ukraine, South Africa, Morocco and Chile, Poland is seen by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) as a country with significant shale gas resources (see Shale Daily, April 7, 2011). Poland ranks 11th among countries with technically recoverable shale gas reserves, according to EIA data.