WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland will likely adopt a much-awaited law to regulate shale gas production this year, opening the way for the potentially lucrative sector to kick into gear, Treasury Minister Mikolaj Budzanowski said Friday.

Poland has been the most aggressive country in Europe in pursuing shale gas, a form of natural gas that is trapped in porous shale rock and requires new technologies to extract. It has been produced in the United States since late 1990s, but environmental activists say the extraction process — called hydraulic rock fracturing — is highly polluting.

International and Polish companies are exploring for the gas in Poland but are waiting for the new law — which will regulate taxes on production, terms for starting business and distribution of gas — before they commit to a longer-term strategy.

"Foreign companies are undoubtedly waiting for the final version of the law, which should be adopted this year and take effect in 2015," Budzanowski told The Associated Press in an interview. "It will certainly give a big impulse for intensifying gas exploration efforts in Poland."

A preliminary draft of the new law, which was demanded by the European Union, calls for a combination of taxes totaling about 40 percent on financial gains made by shale gas producers. But companies say it's the details in the new law that matter. Without its finalization, they cannot plan ahead.

"Companies are slowing down work and waiting to see whether the new law, especially the tax, will leave enough commercial space," said Pawel Poprawa, an expert on shale gas with The Energy Studies Institute in Warsaw.

The government hopes shale gas will boost the economy, reduce dependence on Russian gas imports and cut energy prices. The State Geological Institute estimates Poland's shale gas deposits may secure production for at least 25 years.

The first commercial shale gas in Poland is expected to be produced on a small scale in early 2015. Shale gas will likely become a major energy source for Poland by 2020, but coal — which Poland is rich in — will remain the main source for another 50 years while technology efforts will focus on reducing carbon gas emission, Budzanowski said.

Some 35 exploratory shale gas wells have been drilled so far, but the findings are "not always exciting," Poprawa said. More than 100 wells are needed for an assessment of the deposits.

In the United States, production of shale gas has brought down gas prices on the U.S. domestic market to under $100 per 1,000 cubic meters, about a third of what gas costs in most of Europe, where the chief provider is Russia. Moscow charges Poland above the European average thanks to a contract between the two countries that dates back to 1993.

Regarding environmental concerns, Budzanowski said Poland's mining and research institutes should be involved in developing new, environmentally-friendly forms of shale gas extraction that could be also used in other countries.

In France, Germany and Bulgaria, environmental concerns were behind recent decisions to block or suspend exploration for shale gas. But countries like Russia or China are pursuing shale gas programs.

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  • SPRINGVILLE, PA - JANUARY 18: A truck with the natural gas industry, one of thousands that pass through the area daily, drives through the countryside to a hydraulic fracturing site on January 18, 2012 in Springville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 30: Protestors stage a demonstration against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building on May 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Dozens of protesters with the group Californians Against Fracking staged a protest outside of California Gov. Jerry Brown's San Francisco offices demanding that Gov. Brown ban fracking in the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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  • In this Nov. 26, 2012 photo, Steve Lipsky demonstrates how his well water ignites when he puts a flame to the flowing well spigot outside his family's home in rural Parker County near Weatherford, Texas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had evidence a gas company's drilling operation contaminated Lipsky's drinking water with explosive methane, and possibly cancer-causing chemicals, but withdrew its enforcement action, leaving the family with no useable water supply, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The EPA's decision to roll back its initial claim that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations had contaminated the water is the latest case in which the federal agency initially linked drilling to water contamination and then softened its position, drawing criticism from Republicans and industry officials who insisted they proved the agency was inefficient and too quick to draw conclusions. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

  • In this file photo of Jan. 17, 2013, Yoko Ono, left, and her son Sean Lennon visit a fracking site in Franklin Forks, Pa., during a bus tour of natural-gas drilling sites in northeastern Pennsylvania. Ono and Lennon have formed a group called “Artists Against Fracking,” which has become the main celebrity driven anti-fracking organization. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, a worker checks a dipstick to check water levels and temperatures in a series of tanks at a hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas drilling site outside Rifle, Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, a worker switches well heads during a short pause in the water pumping phase, at the site of a natural gas hydraulic fracturing and extraction operation outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas well outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Josh Fox, director of the anti-fracking, Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” testifies during a House Committee hearing on oil drilling, "fracking" legislation at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • This is a Thursday Aug. 15, 2013 image of the Cuadrilla exploration drilling site in Balcombe, southeast England. (AP Photo/Gareth Fuller/PA)

  • A child plays near a farmers' protest in an area where oil company Chevron plans to put a drilling rig exploring for shale gas in the south-eastern Polish village of Zurawlow on June 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI

  • Protesters hold a banner during a protest outside of the Momentive resin plant, Monday, July 8, 2013, in Morganton, N.C. Dozens of environmental activists blocked a chemical plant Monday to protest against the company's sale of products used in the natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. (AP Photo/The News Herald, Mary Elizabeth Robertson)

  • A fracking rig exploring for shale gas of oil company Chevron on June 11, 2013 in a village of Ksiezomierz in south-eastern Poland. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI

  • People demonstrate on August 3, 2013 in La Petite Brosse, near Jouarre, outside Paris, to protest against an exploratory oil shale drilling, considering that it opens the door to the exploration of shale gas in the Parisian Basin. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU

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  • Eric Weltman of Food & Water Watch attends a news conference and rally against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in New York State on January 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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  • Engineers on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

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