San Leon Energy: Hydraulic Fracturing in Poland
This case explores how to manage the political risks of using a controversial energy extraction technology in the European Union. San Leon Energy, an Irish energy firm, was committed to developing large unconventional shale gas reserves in Poland. To reach these reserves, San Leon needed to use a technique called hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). Pioneered in the United States during the early 2000s, fracking involved pumping a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into a reservoir at high pressure to crack shale formations, releasing gas to flow up the well. The natural gas produced by this process provided a substantially cleaner energy alternative to coal. Additionally, since large, previously inaccessible shale gas reserves were located in the United States, Canada, China, and parts of Europe, fracking had the potential to revolutionize the geopolitics of the energy industry. However, American and European environmental groups grew concerned that fracking could contaminate local drinking water, generate air pollution, cause minor earthquakes, and crowd out investment in renewable energy alternatives. The Polish government supported fracking as a way to dramatically bolster the country's domestic gas production and reduce its energy dependence on Russia. Yet in 2011 and 2012, environmental protests worldwide grew, causing several countries, including Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Romania, and parts of Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom to issue temporary fracking bans. Since San Leon Energy's management called Poland "the heartbeat of our company," the company faced the challenging tasks of mitigating environmentalists' concerns and preventing a Polish or EU-wide fracking ban.