THERE MUST BE GAS. (Ci deve essere gas)

Poland’s hopes of hitting a shale gas bonanza have suffered a blow as ExxonMobil ended exploration for the unconventional fuel after tests failed to find gas in commercial quantities.

The US oil major said there had been “no demonstrated sustained commercial hydrocarbon flow rates” in two test wells in eastern Poland and added that it had “completed its exploration operations in Poland”.

ExxonMobil has six concessions in Poland and it remains unclear what plans the company has for them.

The decision by ExxonMobil is the latest in a series of disappointments over Poland’s possible gas reserves.

Energy companies and the government were enticed by an estimate last year from the US Energy Information Administration, which said Poland might hold 5.3tn cubic metres of shale gas – the largest reserves in Europe.

However, a newer estimate by Poland’s government geological institute cut about 90 per cent off that, suggesting reserves of 346-768bn cubic metres.

Although the lower number is unlikely to turn Poland into a gas exporter, it would make it much less dependent on gas imports from Russia, which currently supplies about two-thirds of the 14bn cubic metres of gas the country consumes annually.

Waldemar Pawlak, Poland’s economy minister, suggested that ExxonMobil became less interested in its Polish operations after agreeing last week to develop tight oil reserves in Siberia together with Rosneft, the Russian state oil group.

“With such prospects, shale gas in Poland did not have as much meaning for [ExxonMobil],” said Mr Pawlak.

In 2009, ExxonMobil abandoned shale gas exploration in Hungary after a disappointing result from a test well.

The Polish government has handed out 109 shale gas exploration concessions around the country, and the other companies still looking for the fuel – a process that involves pumping fluids at high pressure deep underground to fracture rock, releasing trapped oil and gas – are still optimistic about Poland’s possible deposits.

Companies active in Poland include Chevron, ConocoPhilips and Poland’s PGNiG, the former gas monopoly, as well as a host of smaller groups specialised in shale gas exploration.

“I’m a bit perplexed as to why anyone would drill just two wells and then leave,” said John Buggenhagen, exploration director for Aim-quoted San Leon Energy, which has concessions near the Baltic coast, as well as in the west and south of the country.

“We believe it will take dozens of wells to explore just a small area. San Leon believes Poland has huge potential.”

One of the earliest tests came from 3Legs Resources, the UK-based independent that was the first operator to drill and test two shale wells near the Baltic coast where it found “encouraging” quantities of gas, although the flow rates were less than expected.

Mikolaj Budzanowski, the treasury minister, estimates that the first commercial shale gas extraction should begin in 2014-2015, with about 0.5 to 1bn cubic metres coming to market initially, with production eventually ramping up to 5bn-10bn cubic metres a year.

Poland has been one of the most enthusiastic backers of shale gas in the European Union, while other countries such as France, Romania and Bulgaria have instituted moratoriums on shale exploration for environmental reasons.