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For Russia, natural gas weapon works both ways

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The situation unfolding in Crimea is an interesting example of energy’s role in geopolitics. In Ukraine, the major energy story is consumption and transportation of Russian natural gas. 60 percent of the gas burned in Ukraine comes from Russia and gas that passes through Ukraine finds markets in Germany, France, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and others. This map from Reuters does the trick (hat tip: @costasamaras):

And the US, flush with natural gas from domestic drilling of tight shale plays, is looking to use its newfound abundance to “curb” Russia’s influence. There are a couple good takes on this issue. I recommend the reader to check out Jason Bordoff’s piece in Foreign Policy for the case for exporting US LNG (and some of the challenges).

But another important point is: the gas weapon – that is, the  ability to use energy as a political tool – works both ways. Ukraine and European countries are at risk of Russia shutting off gas supplies – something it has done in the past. But Russia is also dependent on these markets for a lot of its wealth and income. James West elaborates at Mother Jones:

Russia isn’t as powerful as you might think. But for all the Russian posturing, and the canceled energy deal, Ukraine—and Europe more broadly—does have some leverage over Russia to prevent the situation from deteriorating further, says Edward Chow, an energy and security analyst at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). ”Interestingly, the gas pipelines, as well as critically important gas storage facilities, all go through Western Ukraine,” he says. “Until Russians build additional bypass pipelines…they are still highly dependent on Ukraine to transit gas exports to Europe.” And Ukraine’s supplies, mostly in the pro-reform western part of the country, could withstand a four-month Russian blockade, according to Reuters.

The situation in Ukraine is complex. In any event, US LNG is more of a medium to long-term play; the first LNG export facility is expected to up and running in 2015. A lot can happen in the meantime.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. tuned 10:02 am 03/11/2014

    The USSR ways still are at the shoulder of Russia.

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  2. 2. jtdwyer 12:33 pm 03/11/2014

    David Wogan – interesting points!

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  3. 3. jerryd 4:22 pm 03/11/2014

    It’s the real weapon against Russia, middle east terrorism.

    What we need to do to fight terrorism, Putin, dictators are mostly financed by oil, NG, is make them no longer needed.

    For instance most NG is used by buildings or power and this can be easily solved by building insulating shells, etc plus adding renewable energy can, in fact has to, replace NG.

    This is both simple and not that expensive, 2-4 yrs of the energy bill now can go a long way in cutting NG dependency in Europe in just 2 yrs and put many of the unemployed to work doing it.

    Facts are fiscally it’s a no brainer vs the massive problems coming from buying every increasingly expensive oil, NG.

    Solar now is cheaper to much cheaper than utility power and other RE from wind, geothermal, English Channel, etc tidal/river power, biomass is already or soon will be.

    My study from actually making RE power for a living way before it was cool shows if we switch to RE, inherently safe small factory built nukes mostly plus bio/syn/waste derived fuels will cost half of what we, I should say you because I don’t as much as possible, shipping, etc, will pay that if you get your act together.

    Facts are the only difference is when as we will run out of cost effective oil, NG and coal. The only question is when.

    And that is about $7/gal oil equivalent. At that point so, so many other energy sources are so much more cost effective, will signal the end of the oil and slightly later, coal and NG.

    My fifty yrs of watching, making buying, selling energy I’ve found oil, coal in 20 yrs will be too expensive to burn and and Ng in 30 yrs or so.

    Why is we will burn it up faster as the new five billion new people into the educated world means demand way outstrips supply.

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  4. 4. rufusgwarren 4:36 pm 03/13/2014

    This ripple has massive effects of what can happen to our environment. Does it place pressure on America to stand-up and be the worlds supplier, that will affect this (??), or stand-up for mother earth.

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  5. 5. gunt 6:06 am 03/14/2014

    JerryD – your comment ‘Solar now is cheaper to much cheaper than utility power and other RE from wind, geothermal, English Channel, etc tidal/river power, biomass is already or soon will be’
    …. does unfortunately not work in Germany.
    Since 10 Years there were outragious subventions given to wind power, and Photovoltaics with the result that Germany has now (with Danmark) the highest electricity Prices (38 US cts per kwh) in Europe.
    In 2014 the sum of 24 Billion Euro will be payed out to the wind and solar Lobby for their toys and at the same time – as Germany chose to abandon their nuclear power stations – new coal (Lignite) power stations are built as back-up power when no wind blows and no sun shines.
    In Addition – new high voltage lines are needed to Transport the wind electricity from northern Germany to the south and west to the industrial Centers.
    And the costs for all this end up on the consumer’s electricity bill.

    So – in Germany your Statement ‘solar power be cheaper than Utility power’ is just seen as a joke !
    If it were so – why then are those high subventions for PV needed ?

    Finally some facts on PV here : In Germany there are less than 1000 hrs sunshine per year. The capacity factor for PV is therefore just 10.5% (that is – if you install a 1 kw module you will on a yearly average just have 100 watts.
    And finally – to have the same PV power available as for a standard Utility you need 40-times the amount of copper and 70 times the amount of aluminium.

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  6. 6. jerryd 3:31 pm 03/23/2014

    Grunt, If you actually look at the German numbers you’ll find it’s the high Russian NG prices linked to oil prices, cut of all their nuke units plus the fact industry low prices there is subsidized by the people paying much more is the reason, not anything else.

    Even with the lower sunlight there PV bought, installed at $2/wt as I showed still comes to $.08/kwhr there. So just why does this cause high prices?

    Facts are without solar and wind they would be far worse off, no?

    And the final fact the Germans voted to do these and pay those prices.

    Capacity factor doesn’t matter, it’s $/kwhr that does. For instance 2 perfectly good paid FOR US nukes are shutting down because they have a 90% + capacity factor and can sell it against RE and NG.

    Your numbers are just FF shill talking points. You should be so proud.

    How about commenting on the $600B/yr big oil, coal corporate welfare they get from YOUR income taxes? Do you like paying 20% more in taxes to FF corporate welfare? Not sure how you justify that?

    How about all the dead, wounded soldiers from the oil wars? what are they worth? Would a patriot support killing, maiming them for corporate welfare? How many more must die for corporate welfare before you admit it to yourself?

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