Wherefore art thou Polish Shale Gas?

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.


I went in search of Polish shale gas a few weeks ago. I spent some time looking under rocks in Warsaw and Lublin, asking a few people if they had seen this shale gas revolution. I went to a few offices, met people in cafes and even explored a few bars in search of revolutionaries that were upending the country by drilling holes and fracking the ground apart. This was my fourth trip back to Poland in a year. On this trip I focused on those ‘pesky’ environmentalists everyone blames for slowing shale gas extraction down.

In this blog post I’ll just list a few general impressions and hold the more exact details for some articles. But I met with national and local green people. The great thing about meeting with these people is that they didn’t know where the revolution, or even the start of a shale gas industry, could be found. It even turned out that not only did they not really oppose shale gas in Poland but they were waiting just like the companies for the Polish government to figure out what it wants to do. My statements may be sweeping here, but when it comes down to it, the Polish green organizations could point to why they may oppose shale gas extraction, but they were more articulate describing how and for whom shale gas should be extracted. That is, shale gas should be used within a more localized gas distribution system benefiting those communities that allow extraction to occur. Thus total denial for using fracking technology is not embraced by all, or even many, green Polish organizations. The issue is much more nuanced than widely reported.

Polish Shale Gas Love

The building of a shale gas industry came across as highly theoretical as the members of the organizations themselves were not really convinced that much would come of shale gas in Poland. I was expecting a much stronger reaction against shale gas and a push back against the current exploratory wells being drilled. But the people I spoke to seemed really laid back about any threat. It seemed to me that they have come to the realization  there really won’t be any large, or even medium, scale shale gas ‘revolution’ in Poland. Three companies have recently pulled out of Poland – while various reasons are cited, it most likely is a collection of things, but what is now emerging as the incompetence of the Polish state to effectively manage and build an administrative system that incentivizes exploration and extraction.

It is hard to nail down specific reasons for the revolution not taking off in Poland, but I am certainly more of the opinion that the revolutionary wind has been sucked out. From an institutional perspective, state institutions are good at building up and deploying a technology – but don’t expect that this occurs overnight in a revolutionary zeal. Combine this assumption with administrative procedures and  the inherent tendency to dot every ‘I’ then the momentum that was propelling companies to drill has just run out. One lessons for the US that can be applied is the speed and scaling up of fracking technology that occured – this will not happen in Poland or Europe.

But asking a state administration to deny its own internal procedures – brings us back to our Romeo and Juliet quote at the beginning. It is not just a question of “wherefore art thou”, but can the Polish state deny its bureaucratic legacy to make shale gas extraction licensing lean and mean – at the bureaucratic speed of Canada and the US? Instead of looking for the answer to this, maybe it is just best to assume the shale gas industry in Poland will be asleep for a very long time. Thus, Polish environmentalists know it is best to sit back and let the Polish state trip over itself. And that is an impression I’ve gotten from everyone on all sides of the debate now. Polish shale gas will be as successful as Polish wind power. Somewhere it will be there, but it will be hard to see where.

To Save Energy, Digitize the Waste

Saving the environment has always centered on reducing waste. Usually this is focused on reducing solid waste. Separate and recycle your plastic, paper and metals etc…. Well, I think that has generally caught on. Even if people don’t do it they know about it. Importantly, businesses understand that waste is a sign of putting money down the drain. Unfortunately, how we use energy is not seen the same way. There is no physical trash we are paying to be hauled away. Turning on a light or operating an old machine seems like there is only a small cost to having a more energy efficient light or machine. But the kilowatts add up and cost us all money. So let’s re-frame energy efficiency as energy waste.
It's not much to ask

So what do we do with energy waste? How do we dispose of it? How do we handle it? Is it toxic or is it just wasteful – after all we have the air to suck up the wasted heat or machines that eat the extra electricity. In many climate scenarios like the Global Energy Assessment, there are scenarios that look at the role of energy efficiency and how this reduces demand and thus carbon emissions. The savings are dramatic for the climate and for the planet. But until we really begin to quantify and measure the difference of the waste – to physically see the waste, progress is slow. We have to convince people of the merits of energy efficiency and demonstrate the money to be saved.

Therefore, let’s turn energy waste into a bunch of ‘1’s and ‘0’s. Digitize energy waste. Make the energy talk to you. Find out when and where there is energy waste by closely monitoring it on a computer. By using monitoring equipment the waste is displayed in a graphical format (maybe in the form of a pile of trash) indicating for businesses and households how much is being wasted. Just like photos or books, once we digitize the physical properties of energy we can tackle them with a computer. We are now in an age where we digitize everything and turn it into information that can be examined and shaped and reshaped into many different forms. A part of this is called, ‘big data’. The ability to mine and identify trends in tons of data. Maybe not 100% accurate put pretty close and good enough to do something interesting that has impact.

Once energy is digitized then we can establish a regulatory framework that incentives, in a broad regulatory and creative framework, how energy waste can be reduced. Whether this is for a firm bidding on energy efficiency measures for a building or a group of buildings and then retrofitting to a specified energy efficiency level or going into a company and looking at and working with machines and other manufacturing processes. Some of this is not new, but what should be done is monitoring the difference before and after the changes. Commoditize the waste. Energy inefficiencies are waste, other waste is seen as a commodity. So let’s not perceive energy waste as a soft form of feel goodness and something that is just good for the wallet, this approach has not worked to date. Let’s see energy waste as a commodity that can be bought and sold. High regulatory standards should be set and enterprises should be encouraged to remove this waste.

Digitizing energy waste lets us see what we are throwing out. It lets us measure how much we throw out. Quantifying waste lets us incentivize more accurately the profit margin of energy waste hauling firms. So let’s invite the garbage man into our homes and businesses and get ride of all this garbage – we’ll be saving money.