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'Dash for Gas' Hits Europe as One Country Finds Itself on the Front Lines of the Fracking Battle

Many there are pointing to the U.S. to demonstrate what could go terribly wrong.

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Thousands of miles from Pennsylvania, in a tiny hamlet called Ogonki, in an area of northern Poland known as Kashubia, it is reports such as this which worry Edward Sawicki.

Sawicki is a farmer. A small scale organic producer with less than a dozen cows. His farm sits in a picturesque, rural area of rolling hills, pristine woodland and winding country lanes. The fields and forests give way occasionally to tiny villages, farms, and manicured churches. The kind of place where shops don't open on Sundays.

Kashubia isn't officially independent from the rest of Poland, but many of its inhabitants would like to think it is, with their own dialect, flag and fiercely independent spirit. It's where some Poles take their vacation. The area has many summer houses and lakes, used for swimming or fishing.

Sawicki is worried because the ground underneath him contains shale gas, and gas companies want to drill for it.

In late 2011, industry representatives began visiting inhabitants in the region, Sawicki says, trying to secure permission to carry out geological surveys.

The gas men came armed with pamphlets and brochures and slick talk, trying to persuade people that fracking was safe. But whilst some farmers in the region were quick to allow access to their land, Sawicki refused, worried by what he had read.

"I mean, the first threat when it comes to hydraulic fracturing and numerous drillings regards our water, what will be done to test our drinking water..,? the farmer asks.

"Secondly, how the air that we breathe is going to be treated, I mean, how the gas is going to be treated, the remains from the mining, not, as the government says green gas, but all the mess that will stay here."

Keen to illustrate what he believes is at stake, Sawicki takes us down through the freezing fields to the shoreline of a healthy-looking lake. There's lots of trees and greenery all around, and some log cabins nearby, some wild birds floating on the water – the sort of place in summer where you could idle away an afternoon.

"I am the owner of this land, here, in this direction and that," he asserts. "The forest and meadows belong to me. My property border is at the lake that is behind me. The lake is quite big, it stretches for 7 km. One of the fishermen I know fishes here in the lake, so it is still quite clean.

"My fear is that oil stains may appear on the surface if some trucks that carry chemical stuff... [lose their] content deliberately in our forests or in our watercourses here, and the lake might disappear altogether."

Back at the farmhouse, Sawicki tells us his opposition to the exploratory drilling has come at a price. "It all started when seismic companies, the ones who have been commissioned by the [gas] exploitation companies, started [to] intrude on us last year... and it was not only intrusion, it was harassment and terrorising, threatening with expropriation, financial fines, different things."

He says no more – it is too complicated to go into any detail, he explains – but our interpreter later tells us there's been phone calls and threats.

Sawicki shows us an anti-fracking mural he's had painted on the side of a barn. Although it cannot have been seen by many people in person – Ogonki is isolated, with few, if any, folk passing through – the mural has been filmed and photographed by all the visiting journalists.

The painting, via this unexpected route, has thus reached thousands, perhaps millions.

 
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