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Shale gas’s next frontier could be Poland

Shale gas, the energy source which has shaken up world oil markets, could soon be flowing in Poland after changes in government policy.

Shale gas drilling has a chequered history in Poland. International oil giant Exxon Mobil tried to extract the controversial energy source in the country and gave up in 2012.

Instead, Poland's first shale gas extraction will start within months, or even weeks, according to Dennis McKee, chief executive of United Oilfield Services, which is providing equipment for shale gas exploration in Poland.

(Read more: Poland: A tough sell for investors?)

"The climate is changing quickly at this point, and there are more wells this year than in the last five years," he told CNBC. "Government plans have changed, making it easier to develop."

Shale gas, the energy source which has shaken up world oil markets, could soon be flowing in Poland after changes in government policy.

Shale gas drilling has a chequered history in Poland. International oil giant Exxon Mobil tried to extract the controversial energy source in the country and gave up in 2012.

Instead, Poland's first shale gas extraction will start within months, or even weeks, according to Dennis McKee, chief executive of United Oilfield Services, which is providing equipment for shale gas exploration in Poland.

"The climate is changing quickly at this point, and there are more wells this year than in the last five years," he told CNBC. "Government plans have changed, making it easier to develop."

(Read more: Europe taking a pass on shale revolution?)

Prime Minister Donald Tusk replaced the environment minister Marcin Korolec on Wednesday with Maciej Grabowski, the former deputy finance minister who was responsible for preparing shale gas taxation.

Bloomberg/Contributor | Bloomberg

Tusk made no bones about the importance of shale gas when he announced the changes. "It is about radical acceleration of shale gas operations," he told reporters.

Poland's rather confused attitude to energy and climate change is illustrated in Warsaw this week, where the UN conference on reducing global emissions, also known as the Cop 19, is meeting at the same time as a coal industry conference. The country relies heavily on coal, the most polluting of the fossil fuels, to power its industry and households. More than 85 percent of its electricity is generated from coal.

However, there is growing awareness of the need for cleaner energy, and pollution is a problem in cities like Krakow, where protestors have taken to the streets recently to rally against the fog of coal smoke.

"The government is committed, but we are very inexperienced in this issue. We now have all these international players and we have to regulate them," Agata Hinc, managing director at demos Europa, a think tank, told CNBC.

"We need to think about what other energy sources come into the equation."

(Read more: From McDonald's to Michelin: Rise of Polish cuisine)

Still, shale gas isn't assured success in Poland. Extraction has proved difficult because of the country's geology. Fracking, the process used to extract gas from rocks, has been criticized for causing damage to air, water and rocks, and has been banned in European Union countries like France.

Elwyn Grainger-Jones, director of IFAD and a delegate at Cop 19 said Poland instead needs to invest in the green economy. He argued that the need for a green economy is "non-negotiable."

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle. Twitter: @cboylecnbc

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