EnergyOil & GasPoliticsRoudi Baroudi

The Russia-Ukraine war and Europe’s flawed quest for energy security



Europe’s hesitance over targeting Russia’s energy industry to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine has exposed the precariousness of the continent’s energy supplies, with best solutions demanding a deeper understanding as to how the European situation got to where it is today.

The simple explanation is that Germany and several other European countries have become over-reliant on imports of Russian natural gas. But this is only partly true; numerous other factors accentuate Europe’s vulnerability, and while some amount to unfortunate timing, others stem from significant failings at the strategic decision-making level.

For one thing, several governments have decided to close their nuclear and coal power plants in recent years, which has only increased Europe’s need for — and therefore dependence on — Russian gas. This is not to say that there were no compelling reasons for these decisions, and the coincidence of this post-nuclear period with the Russia-Ukraine crisis is at least partly bad luck, yet there is no denying the fact that the idling of so much output capacity has left Europe with few practical and viable alternatives. The real problem, though, was not the nuclear shutdowns phasing out local generating units themselves; rather, it was a failure to adequately prepare for the consequences by adding enough new capacity, especially renewables.

Also in Germany, and partly alongside the denuclearization process, two new terminals for receiving seaborne shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have been delayed for more than a decade. This means that even if Europe were able to secure enough LNG to replace the piped gas it gets from Russia, it lacks sufficient regasification capacity to make full use of it.

Similarly, the proposed Nabucco pipeline — which would have carried Azerbaijani, Egyptian, Iraqi, and/or Turkmen gas from Turkey to Austria — was also subjected to repeated delays and eventual cancellation in 2013, further entrenching the importance of Russian gas and Russian pipelines.

Despite having missed these and other opportunities to make itself more flexible and more resilient by diversifying its sources, means, and routes of supply, Europe still has time to substantially improve its position, especially in the medium and long terms.

One promising option is a gas interconnector which would radically expand the pipeline capacity between Spain, with both undersea pipelines to Algeria and Morocco and a considerable unused regasification capacity, and France, from where the supplies in question could then be distributed to other points in Europe. Political and other concerns have slowed this proposal as well, so we can only hope that the crisis in Ukraine will help renew the focus in Madrid and Paris.

There are other steps Europe could take as well, some of them quite straightforward and requiring less of the cross-border agreement and cooperation that can take so long to reach and activate. One is to bolster the continent’s ability to withstand delivery interruptions by increasing its storage capacity, whether for conventional gas in underground salt caverns or for the liquefied version in new or expanded LNG depots. Another is for the Germans, Belgians, and others to delay the closure of nuclear plants currently slated for decommissioning. A third is for the Dutch to expand their existing LNG receiving ports, and a fourth has got under way in the last few days as the Germans have started work on their own receiving facilities. A fifth is to work immediately on the East Med Leviathan gas field to connect via pipeline to Turkey and onward to Europe.

The situation can also be ameliorated from the outside. The United States, for example, has doubled its LNG exports to Europe, and Qatar — which met every single one of its delivery commitments despite the illegal two-and-half-year blockade imposed on it by some of its neighbors — should be able to increase its shipments, too, something that would restore confidence in supply markets. In addition to pipelined gas, Spain also receives electricity generated by solar farms in North Africa, and the scope for similar shared grids across the Euro-Mediterranean region is enormous.

Last, but certainly not least, Europe can best serve its own interests — in every sense of the word — by approving its financial support on future oil and gas projects for the next few years and getting even more serious about renewables. The Euro-Med countries alone have enough offshore wind power potential to replace the entire global nuclear industry, and other technologies beckon as well — including solar, wave, tidal, and undersea geothermal.

All this to become independent of Russian gas and to move for peace, not war.

Roudi Baroudi is a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Leadership Network and the author of “Maritime Disputes in the Mediterranean: The Way Forward” a book distributed by the Brookings Institution Press. With more than 40 years of experience in fields including oil and gas, electricity, infrastructure and public policy, he currently serves as CEO of Energy and Environment Holding, an independent consultancy based in Doha, Qatar.

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