Russia’s power play in Ukraine has raised concerns that Europe’s environmental policies have harmed Europe’s energy security.
Strict environmental and global warming policies have only served to make European Union more reliant on energy from unfriendly nations.
Europe gets about one-third of its gas from Russia, most of which comes through Ukraine via pipelines. This has stoked fears among Europeans that any sort of pushback against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans in Ukraine could imperil natural-gas imports. Indeed, Russia has been willing to shut off gas supplies in the past — most recently in 2009 when they shut the gas off to Europe for about 13 days.
Russia’s hold on Europe is the unintended consequence of burdensome environmental and global warming policies. For years environmental activists have been spreading fears about drilling for oil and gas, which has only intensified in recent years due to the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the U.S.
Europe sits on vast recoverable natural shale gas reserves. The Wall Street Journal reports that 470 trillion cubic feet of gas lies in reserves, but much of it has been blocked off due to government policies.
France has banned fracking based on environmental fears that it will contaminate water supplies and raise carbon dioxide emissions — effectively preventing 137 trillion cubic feet from being extracted and brought to E.U. markets.
Germany and Bulgaria sit on a cumulative 34 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but local politics and environmentalists have prevented Germans from fracking for gas. In Bulgaria, there is a federal ban on the drilling technique.
Ukraine itself sits on about 128 trillion cubic feet of gas. No doubt, Putin has been eyeing some of this gas for himself, which could hurt Europe further.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine have many European leaders pushing for the U.S. to increase natural gas exports to Europe and for the continent to start drilling for its own gas to reduce its reliance on Russia. E.U. leaders have agreed that they need to reduce their reliance on Russian energy.
“Some countries are almost 100 percent reliant on Russian gas, so I think it is something of a wake-up call,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters. “I think it’s a good opportunity. Energy independence, using all these different sources of energy, should be a tier one political issue from now on, rather than tier five.”
The United Kingdom and Poland have moved forward with fracking operations, but are in the early stages. Poland has 50 wells drilled with several fracked, but geological challenges and government regulations continue to slow development.
In the U.K. several wells have been drilled, but one one has been fracked. Britain has actually seen some of the most aggressive opposition to fracking in Europe. But the conservative government is determined to frack for gas in order to lower heating bills, which have risen 190 percent in the last decade.
Spain could also be the epicenter of a potential oil and gas boom, according to the economic consulting firm Deloitte. The oil and gas industry estimates that Spain could become a natural gas exporter by 2031 and that oilfields off the Canary Islands hold about 500 million barrels of crude oil.
President Barack Obama and the European Union have agreed to improve energy trade between the two powers. But the Obama administration has been slow to approve liquefied natural gas export terminals, despite favorable rhetoric towards exporting U.S. energy.
“We welcome the prospect of U.S. LNG exports in the future since additional global supplies will benefit Europe and other strategic partners,” E.U. and U.S. trade officials said in a joint statement. “We agree on the importance of redoubling transatlantic efforts to support European energy security to further diversify energy sources and suppliers and to allow for reverse natural gas flows to Ukraine from its E.U. neighbours.”
Whether or not the E.U. opts to rely on U.S. gas imports or domestic drilling, both are medium to long-term solutions to their energy security problem. In the short term, they are going to have to proceed cautiously and absorb any energy blows that Russia throws at them.
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