SZYMKOWO, Poland (AP) - A slender shale gas rig rising from the midst of plowed fields and farm houses in Poland has inspired both hope for a local community's prosperity and fears it will ruin bucolic village life.
The rig in the central Polish village of Szymkowo belongs to Canadian-based Talisman Energy Inc., one among some two dozen international companies across Poland exploring thousands of yards underground for hidden deposits of natural gas hailed as a vast new source of fuel.
Inspired by the huge success of shale gas in the United States, Poland is a pioneer in Europe, pressing ahead as other EU countries - like France, Germany and Bulgaria - impose moratoriums over worries that the drilling technique will poison water and pollute the air.
A worker of a shale gas rig of Canadian-based Talisman Energy Inc. checks his notes in the middle of muddy fields in the village of Szymkowo, in central Poland.
Poland has high hopes of breaking its 70-percent dependence on unreliable imports from Russian supplier Gazprom, create new jobs and cut rising energy prices.
In sparsely populated Szymkowo, Justyna Kulakowska is notably less enthusiastic.
Kulakowska said she doesn't believe that shale gas - if found- could improve things for the village. The community would be paid "peanuts," she said, while others get rich.
The soaring 130-foot rig, jutting out from a rural, flat field of patchy trees, dominates the skyline, along with a nearby tiny wind farm built two years ago. But Kulakowska fears its impact will be much worse.
"We will have nothing in the end, only the stench, when they go," said Kulakowska, 33, whose new pink house is just some 200 yards from the rig, which has towered over the area since March. Her home's value has already plunged some 30 percent, she said.
"I am concerned for our water, because the village has its own drinking water well," she said. "They say it is safe, but anything can happen."
"It would be superb" if no gas is found, she said.
The pro-business government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has been fueling hopes of big discoveries, though dreams of reserves that could make Poland self-reliant for centuries have been dampened.
Reserves are far lower than originally forecast, with recoverable reserves between 346 billion and 768 billion cubic meters, according to a government report last month. That is enough to fully satisfy the country's gas requirements for about seven decades.
Backers point out that rough estimate is based on pre-1990 figures and will likely change as companies reach gas deposits and analyze commercial viability.
It is still a few weeks before the value of Szymkowo's deposits, trapped in porous shale rock some 14,000 feet underground, can be assessed. The exploratory well is now 9,700 feet deep and drilling is progressing at some 7 yards per hour around the clock.
Standing in his vegetable garden, 1,000 feet from the rig, Piotr Puacz, a jobless electrician, had no complaints.
"This is the only alternative to coal and oil, running short and rising in prices," he said. "My dogs and passing cars are more noisy," he said.