24

Now that Crimean crisis is at its peak, US and EU are trying their best to force Moscow to pull back from Crimea. But all there efforts seem to have no effect on Russia.

But if these situations continue, Russia may decide to stop gas supply to Europe. According to this news for The Guardian, this step may have heavy effect on Europe. In the report, The Guardian says,

In late 2005, Gazprom said it planned to hike the price it charged Ukraine for natural gas from $50 per 1,000 cubic metres, to $230. Kiev, unsurprisingly, said it would not pay, and on 1 January 2006 – the two countries having spectacularly failed to reach an agreement – Gazprom turned off the taps.

The impact was immediate – and not just in Ukraine. The country is crossed by a network of Soviet-era pipelines that carry Russian natural gas to many European Union member states and beyond; more than a quarter of the EU's total gas needs were met by Russian gas, and some 80% of it came via Ukrainian pipelines. Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Poland soon reported gas pressure in their own pipelines was down by as much as 30%.

The Wikipedia page on Russia in European energy sector states that

The Russian Federation supplies a significant volume of fossil fuels and is the largest exporter of oil and natural gas to the European Union. In 2007, the European Union imported from Russia 185 million tonnes of crude oil, which accounted for 32.6% of total oil import, and 100.7 million tonnes of oil equivalent of natural gas, which accounted 38.7% of total gas import.

It also states the percentage of exports from Russia to European countries, which is 100% for Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania.

The following Image shows how the Russian gas network is spread all over Europe:

Image showing Russian Gas network in Europe

Considering the above points, I have the following questions:

  1. Have EU nations made any plan to counter possible gas crisis?
  2. What is the fear in EU's mind, which is forcing them to take steps, which would near to certainly affect there own economies?
  3. Considering the fact that US+EU are already going against Iran, who will provide them enough gas?
  4. Does Russia have any other countries to sell gas to?

Some more sources:

  • 2
    Why would Russia bother to stop the gas (and take a hit on their income)? Ukraine can't do anything. And the Chamberlain Club out there aren't doing anything against Russia except talking talking talking... and threatening that if they don't comply, they shall taunt the Russians again. – user4012 Mar 19 '14 at 17:38
  • 3
    While Baltics get 100% of their gas from Russia, they aren't dependent from Russia in the short term - the piped-in gas is stored in "buffer" underground gas storage facilities in Latvia, and currently the stores can supply that region for about a full year if the Russian pipelines get closed. – Peteris Mar 19 '14 at 18:57
  • 4
    most significant impact on policy making should be in Germany. They decided to totally abandon atomic power plants. Now it is becoming more and more questionable policy. – lowtech Mar 19 '14 at 19:03
  • 1
    I don't think your image really is about all over Europe, as it is missing Estonia, Latvia, Liethuania, Finland, UK, France etc gas lines. Try this one, part of this article – eis Mar 22 '14 at 17:37
  • @lowtech And yet Germany uses less gas (relatively speaking of course) than Belgium, Spain, the UK or the Netherlands (the last two obviously produce some as well). The most striking beneficiary from the phasing out of nuclear power in Germany is the coal (and especially lignite) industry. – Relaxed Jan 27 '15 at 4:05
11

(I'm cutting out question 2 because it's not about gas and the answers already very long.)

Have EU nations made any plan to counter possible gas crisis?


Politicians claim the US plans to allow Europe to purchase liquified natural gas through an expedited process. Four European nations have expressly requested this aid as the US is the worlds largest natural gas producer-it is however very new to exports in natural gas. Exporting natural gas requires cooling the gas to a liquid for shipping.

So in reality, liquified natural gas would not be available to Europe from the US by most measures 5 years, since other nations have already signed long-term contracts for American gas. I find this an unsuitable solution. We can assume most nations strategic gas/oil reserves will only last one year to 18 months. Perhaps, nations like Qatar could increase exports to the EU, which appears to be the trend that was already developing.

There is a workable alternative:

Europe could also increase its imports of US coal. It is currently the largest importer of US coal. This requires no changes in any laws, but it might be unpopular.

Unlike with natural gas, coal-export facilities are already up and running. Unlike the convoluted regulations governing natural gas exports, coal can be traded freely. And there's no need for European countries to build expensive new terminals to handle coal imports.

There is one problem, of course: Coal is a lot dirtier than gas, with about twice the emissions of greenhouse gases when burned for power. For years, Europe has tried to curb its emissions and make its energy sector cleaner, even though expensive local gas and cheap U.S. coal have made that tough the last couple of years.

Also, in regards to EU imports of Russian petrol:

The US is expected to overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world's largest producer of crude oil by 2016, although some energy experts suspect may have already due to new "tight oil" retrieval technologies. It is currently illegal to export crude oil from the US, so producers must "refine" it in some way and this is expensive. The back-up glut of crude oil supplies that have not been brought to market in the US could be made available for purchase by European governments. This would relieve some of the strain caused by a break with Russia. Please note: I do not say to lift the export ban completely. That would be pointless.

Source: International Energy Agency (IEA) 2012 World Energy Outlook


Who will sell the US-EU gas if not Iran?

The US has strong economic sanctions against Iran for nearly 50 years, especially targeting oil and natural gas. The US is also the worlds largest producer of natural gas, so its rather irrelevant to the US. The EU as well as most of the world has finally implemented economic sanctions since 2009. The EU gets no gas from Iran and really has no plans to get gas from Iran, unless it stops its nuclear program, which it isn't yet ready to do. Iran would like to sell gas to the EU, though, probably, despite what it says sometimes. I don't expect it to make any moves to anger the EU during this conflict. Iran does not a pipeline built to Europe to supply natural gas, so it would not be an immediate alternative anyway. It could supply petrol if tensions eased.

Therefore, I change this question to: who will sell the EU natural gas? The EU gets its non-Russian natural gas either from domestic production or from Qatar. Both of these sources have been increasing in importance. Stratoil is the most important and it has equal market share as Gazprom in Germany. The sources might be able to increase output some, but not enough to completely cover deficit if Gazprom pulled out. The EU would need to convert some of their power stations to use most probably coal for a few years.


Does Russia have any other countries to sell gas to?

As far as I can tell, no. They will only be able to sell to the countries they currently are selling to and now minus Europe, which represents a loss of $100 million/ day. The reason is that Russia has failed to develop liquified natural gas technology, so it must rely on pipelines. Africa, the Americas, Australia and most of Asia are therefore unreachable markets. They scared off foreign investors that could have helped them develop these technologies years ago when they shut off gas to Europe in 2005 and other scandals. Russia does border China, but the Chinese government refused to except Gazprom's archaic higher gas prices years ago and has long since started developing their own rival pipelines, gas fields, advanced fracking technology, liquified gas technology, and China plans to import from the US. The problem is the way Gazprom is calculating the price, not actually how high it is. If Russian prices crashed, maybe China would buy anyway, but they need to build a pipeline and that would take a few years. Russian gas export volumes peaked in 2005 and have trended downward since.

India is still a big potential customer, but I don't think Russia will be able to supply them, because the Saudis and US instead. Plans have been ongoing since the 1990s for different ways to supply India with either oil or natural gas but due to India's difficult geography one has yet to be realized or even started that would involve Gazprom. The US, in a very obvious attempt to challenge Russian dominance in the area, helped make possible the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline.

Expected to be completed around 2017, the pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India.
Estimated cost of the pipeline project is reported at $7.6 billion.

The original project started in 1995 and has many starts and stops due to the violence in Afghanistan, but its the only actual pipeline to India I find being built and it will be completed some time in the next few years.

Russia would surely be able to find customers for its crude oil.

  • I think India can be a possible buyer.Currently, India is low on coal and needs more fuel to produce more electricity for the increasing needs of the country.After the formation of BRICS, there was some talk between Russia-China-India to build a pipeline for gas.The following links can be useful.gas pipeline from Russia to India via China, Gas pipeline from Russia to India via afghan-pak. – Registered User Mar 20 '14 at 4:18
  • @AdityaPatil These are the same plans they were talking about a decade ago, so Russia still hasn't even started a pipeline. I could find that the Trans-Afganistan Pipeline has actually made real progress, so I'm going to assume US supported pipeline is going to win this one. I edited it. – Razie Mah Mar 20 '14 at 19:08
  • @AdityaPatil India cannot be a possible buyer, since no matter what India&Russia would wish, there is no way to deliver signifcant amounts of gas from Russia to India - neither proposed pipelines nor liquified gas capacity don't exist now, nor won't exist for at least a decade or so. As there are not enough storage for the gas, ability to sell gas in 2018 or 2024 doesn't remedy a lack of trade in 2014/2015; that lack of trade would create a permanent loss of revenue. – Peteris Mar 22 '14 at 20:05
  • 2
    A lot of this seems speculative or inaccurate. For example, the biggest suppliers of natural gas to the EU after Russia are Norway and Algeria, not Qatar. Also, how could coal replace gas in the short term? – Relaxed Jan 27 '15 at 3:44
  • 1
    Sanctions against Iran for nearly 50 years? That'd extend back into the time of the Shah. – Andrew Grimm Apr 19 '16 at 13:38
6

There are two main ways, but both aren't very quick to implement and are a bit more expensive than the current Russian gas.

First, building extra infrastructure for alternative gas supplies - both pipelines and liquified natural gas terminals - can provide an alternative supplier for the gas. This improves gas supplies even if there is no political crisis, as the existance of alternative competition limits the prices that Gazprom can charge. Some political arguing against Iran doesn't prevent petrochemical trade; if Iran&EU get connected, the gas will flow.

Second, reducing the usage of gas - switching [part of] large users such as city heating towards other fuels, and investing in the types of powerplants that can consume a variety of fuels; using gas while it's cheap and available, but being able to burn other fuels if needed.

That being said, the dependency is mutual. Stopping the gas trade would cause internal disorder in the gas consuming countries as there would be many residents w/o adequate heating and there would be switching costs and chaos while workarounds are implemented. Stopping the gas trade would also hurt Russia - Russia doesn't have any "outlets" that could take such amounts of gas, and the unconsumed overproduction would reduce the price at which it can sell the gas it has. The fuel exports form around half of the federal budget, and Russia has a limited amount of fiscal reserves; so cutting that trade may make it unable to pay it's internal commitments and cause internal instability.

  • This is interesting and I upvoted it, but it looks like speculation. If there's some official or semi-official plan it would be better to state that, if there isn't, then this is as good an answer as we can get. – o0'. Mar 19 '14 at 18:35
  • There aren't any "pre-made" plans for exact actions in such situation, at least not made known to the public - there's a lot of speculation by politicians, and in the end they'll adapt to the circumstances. – Peteris Mar 19 '14 at 18:47
3

Answering your questions in order, with the benefit of a bit of hindsight:

  1. Have EU nations made any plan to counter possible gas crisis?

The EU does have a regulation about the safety of gas supplies. There is a bit of funding for cross-border infrastructure and information exchange but the most important measure is an obligation for each country to have a plan to provide gas to private households for 30 days in case of disruption so that it would not immediately create shortages (a "plan" could presumably mean some form of "guaranteed" access to the reserve of a neighbouring country - such arrangements have existed for oil for several decades - not necessarily an actual physical reserve).

Ironically, the main thing EU nations have been doing to avert a supply crisis is in fact the infamous Nord Stream pipeline. There is no sign that Gazprom (which kept delivering gas throughout the transition from the Soviet Union) would ever want to stop delivering gas to Western Europe or significantly hike prices. The 2005 events you mentioned result from Gazprom ongoing dispute with Ukraine and with a direct supply line, all this would have much less direct impact on the rest of Europe. Some countries are also building new terminals to import liquefied natural gas by ship (e.g. from Norway). All the measures to reduce emissions to combat global warming also help a bit by reducing energy consumption in general.

However, when considering all this, it's important to remember that the EU is far from united. Some countries depend entirely on Russia for their gas supplies, others not so much. Some countries have expressed vocal concerns about Russian policy whereas others don't seem to care as much and have other interests at stake. Some EU countries even accuse Russia of treating them less favorably for political reasons.

  1. What is the fear in EU's mind, which is forcing them to take steps, which would near to certainly affect there own economies?

In fact, EU countries reluctantly did the bare minimum, with constant snipping between different EU countries about who should do more, e.g. the UK blaming France for its contract to deliver warships to Russia and France countering by blaming the UK's financial sector for profiting from Russian money. Really, it looks more like an attempt to “do something” to assuage the countries most anxious about the situation than a strong coherent response.

  1. Considering the fact that US+EU are already going against Iran, who will provide them enough gas?

There are other sources of gas for Europe at the moment: Denmark, the Netherlands and of course Norway are actually net exporters, Scotland still produces some, France and others import from Algeria. I don't know that any of these sources could replace imports from Russia, even temporarily, but note that according to the Wikipedia article you linked to, only about a quarter of gas consumed in Europe comes from Russia.

On the other hand, even assuming all the political issues were solved overnight, I am not sure Iran could deliver much right now. Same thing for the US, it can't do much in practice, gas is difficult to export and the infrastructure just does not exist. For years, Nigeria has actually been burning vast quantities of gas, which is a by-product of crude oil extraction and cannot be brought to potential markets like Europe as easily as oil.

  1. Does Russia have any other countries to sell gas to?

Not sure about that. As others have already noted, dependency goes both ways and Russia certainly has similar issues with infrastructure.

Incidentally, note that the sanctions and the broader international context did have a real effect on Russia, economically. So it's not that the US effort have had no effects on Russia, it's just that Russia currently seems ready to pay a high price.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.