Saturday, 29 December 2012

A new low for Foreign Policy Magazine

The once venerable Foreign Policy Magazine has reached a new low by publishing an article on shale gas exploration in Poland, written by a Bulgarian poet by the name of Dimiter Kenarov. The blog article, which could have been written by Vladimir Putin's or Gazprom's PR department, dismisses Poland's hopes to find shale gas and the US support for exploration with this kind of language:

Despite the project's importance, shale gas in Poland seems to be headed the way of the missile shield, which the Obama administration scrapped because of Russian objections in 2009. Difficult geology, an uncompetitive service sector, poor infrastructure, and lack of rigs have hampered development. Poland has a venerable oil and gas sector, but most of the transmission pipelines are based in the southwest, while major shale gas areas are in the northeast. Strict EU environmental laws, as well as unclear regulatory and tax frameworks have further eroded prospects. And while exploration has been going on for a few years now, only 33 wells have been drilled, with just eight of them fracked (at least 200 would have to be drilled in the exploratory stage, just to assess the actual size of reserves).
But the shift in Polish foreign policy -- and the focus on shale gas -- has come not only as a response to Russia, but also to prompting by the United States. In April 2010, the U.S. State Department launched the Global Shale Gas Initiative (since renamed Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program) to "achieve greater energy security, meet environmental objectives and further U.S. economic and commercial interests." The program, which aims to provide technical and regulatory assistance to selected countries, has become an administrative tool of U.S. foreign policy in the global battle over energy resources and the recalibration of political alliances. Despite the lack of a scientific consensus on the benefits and drawbacks of shale gas in the United States, the State Department has nonetheless initiated engagement programs all over the world, from Jordan to India to China; cooperation with Poland has been especially close.

Hoping to emulate the U.S. "energy revolution," Poland has come to rely on the United States to show the way. President Barack Obama, on his visit to Poland in May last year, made a special point of endorsing shale gas. After the failure of the Bush-era missile defense, a proposed antiballistic missile shield to be based in Eastern Europe, shale gas has become perhaps the most significant project in U.S.-Polish relations. And though much smaller in scale than the missile shield, both symbolize the same idea: a U.S. deterrent of Russian foreign-policy interests in Central and Eastern Europe.

Despite the economic and environmental realities, both politicians and the public in Poland continue to believe in the potential of the country's unconfirmed, unconventional resources. Whether the Polish government and private companies will manage to start production, or whether shale gas is just a foreign policy tool to needle Russia, boost U.S. presence in the region, and increase Polish visibility within the EU, remains unclear. The Flame of Hope, in the meantime, has begun to sputter out. 

Foreign Policy adds that freelance journalist Kenarov's "trip is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting". It is difficult to understand why a trip to Poland should be paid by a center for "Crisis Reporting". And one wonders whether Kenarov actually ever went to Poland. The impression one gets from his article is that he visited Moscow instead.

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