Obama to focus on energy, shale gas in Poland

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US President Barack Obama will focus on energy cooperation, including shale gas development, when he visits NATO partner Poland for the first time next week, a US diplomat said Wednesday in Warsaw.

"Energy is a pillar of Polish-American relations and it is sure to be the subject of discussions when President Obama visits Warsaw next week," US ambassador Lee Feinstein told delegates to a shale gas conference here.

Global fuel giants are exploring Poland's shale gas deposits, which a recent US study pegged as having a potential 5.3 trillion cubic metres of natural gas which could last Poland some 300 years.

The US has become a global leader in the production of natural gas extracted from shale, boosting its energy security, driving down prices and making it an exporter.

Poland hopes it could reap similar benefits. However, experts insist that with exploration in the very early stages, it is too soon to gauge commercial viability.

Ex-communist Poland covers 30 percent of its gas needs from domestic resources.

"The issue of shale gas has become an important element of Polish-American relations, strengthening the extra-military importance of the United States for Poland's security," Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told the conference.

He said Obama's visit was "an excellent occasion to deepen Polish-American energy relations and to identify further joint action on shale gas."

France recently banned shale gas exploration amid environmental concerns over hydraulic fracturing used in gas extraction.

"We know that in some countries there are initiatives to ban shale gas exploration, but those who are planning this we say 'be not afraid', new technologies always bring some new challenges," Sikorski added.

"If we would let fear guide us, we could not invest in nuclear energy and a medium-sized country such as France or Poland needs both," he added, referring to plans by Warsaw to build Poland's first nuclear plant by 2020.

Poland is also hoping Obama's May 27-28 visit will pave the way for the stationing of US F-16 fighter jets on Polish soil for the first time, its defence minister said last week amid detailed talks on military co-operation.

Obama is due to travel to Ireland, Britain, France and Poland from May 23-28. He will attend the Group of Eight summit in France just before his Warsaw visit.

© 2011 AFP

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