In an economic war, all means are good

Written by The Frontier Post

Igor Gashkov

The 27 countries that make up the European Union continue to work on the sixth package of anti-Russian sanctions. Following the ban on coal supplies, approved on April 7, the EU expects to make it impossible to import domestic oil. By the middle of the decade, the Old World hopes to give up gas from Siberian fields as well. The official position of the Europeans is that hydrocarbons should be replaced by renewable energy sources. Reality is different. The embargo on Russian coal leads to an increase in the extraction of the same mineral in the EU. Greece is returning to its particularly polluting variety – lignite. Even more dangerous for nature is the replacement of pipeline gas produced in Yamal with American or Qatari liquefied gas. Transfer from one state of aggregation to another is possible only at the cost of energy costs, to which are added the costs of transportation by water. It has been calculated: the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported on tankers entails an increase in harmful emissions into the atmosphere (compared to the pipeline method) by 2.5 times. And this is not counting the harm that shale mining technologies cause to nature.
Not quite green Europe
From a geopolitical point of view, the ongoing changes appear as a replacement of one energy dependence for another. From February 2022, European countries will release funds for the construction of more and more terminals for the liquefaction of liquefied gas, which should replace the previous pipeline supplies. Germany intends to invest € 3 billion in floating terminal groups. And Spain, which already has six such ones, is to build a gas pipeline to neighboring countries so that they can receive liquefied gas through its pipes. A similar infrastructure project was agreed in the north of the EU: a terminal for gas liquefaction will be built in the port of Paldiski in Estonia, from where it will be sent to Finland. In the Balkans, Greece is taking the lead: on May 3, it began construction of a terminal on the Aegean coast, through which it expects to supply LNG to neighbors, including non-EU ones.
This will not make conservationists happy. To fit the gas into the tanks, it is required to lower its temperature to -160 degrees Celsius, only due to which the volume of cargo is reduced by 600 times. Transformation requires an increased expenditure of energy, but is vulnerable to leaks. Spontaneous emissions of methane into the atmosphere occur throughout the entire interval, from natural gas production to its delivery to the terminal. According to the NGO Natural Resources Defense Council, up to 6% of this harmful compound contained in CNG has time to dissolve in the air before the energy carrier reaches the consumer.
Even worse for the environment, the expected so-urce of LNG supply is Am-erican fields. The point is not only that transportation across the Atlantic Ocean is the most protracted, but also in the nature of US gas reserves. Using shale mining technologies tested at the turn of the 2000s and 2010s, Americans extract hydrocarbons by breaking up the soil, leading to water poisoning, soil and air pollution with methane, as well as ethane. Rather, not everyone does this: in part of the United States, shale methods are prohibited. But the United States does not have enough other gas for sale, and from those states where the latest methods of production are legal, energy carriers will henceforth be directed to Europe in greatly increased volumes.
In an economic war, all means are good
For European and American politicians elected on the basis of “green” promises, this development promises explanations with voters. President Joe Biden, who promised not to issue new permits for oil and gas production, has become the world’s largest seller of shale products abroad in 2022. At a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Biden pledged to supply an additional 15 billion cubic meters of gas to the Old World this year alone and up to 50 billion by the end of the decade. A 180-degree reversal, if you keep in mind that Biden began his reign in 2021 by banning the Keystone pipeline between Canada and the United States solely for environmental reasons.
The European Commis-sion is making the same tu-rn. In early February 2022, after a protracted debate, E-uropean leaders recognized natural gas as a “green” (that is, freed from newly introduced restrictions) energy source. At that time, it was about pipeline gas, but today, by association, liquefied gas is also recognized as “green”, which is not at all the same thing. Negotiations are underway between Europeans and Americans: the Old World is waiting for proposals from the United States to reduce methane leaks during transportation. But the gas agrees to accept now, leaving the improvement of technology for the future.
And this is understandable if we take into account the position of Frans Tim-mermans, Vice President of the European Commission, who is responsible for the “green” transition and at the same time approved another transition – to coal, with which the EU intends to temporarily replace Russian gas. “Under the circumstances [of the special military operation in Ukraine], there are no taboos [including on coal],” explains Timmermans.
No taboo?
In fact, at least one, but legally binding restriction on the European economies prevails. The European climate law adopted in 2020 defines a roadmap for the future – it forces the EU countries to reduce the level of harmful emissions into the atmosphere by 55% compared to 1990, allocating only eight years for this – that is, until 2030. Combining this goal with waging an economic war against Russia is difficult. Countries that retain coal reserves have already taken advantage of the introduction of ever new anti-Russian sanctions to increase its production, that is, to sabotage the law.
At the forefront is Pol-and. Known for its mining tradition, it had previously only intended to phase out coal entirely by 2049. Today, this task is recognized as irrelevant. “We want coal-based energy to continue to be consumed in Poland in the second half of this century,” Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin said in April. Ecologists will not be encouraged by this: in terms of CO2 emissions, the coal industry exceeds natural gas on average twice. A situation is emerging in which Russia will sell the coal destined for the EU in Asian markets, and the Europeans will extract their own at the expense of what they were going to buy – and thus increase global pollution.
In the first months of 2-022, the trend towards the return of coal has become universal in the European Union. Greece has anno-unced the resumption of mining of lignite, or brown coal, an extremely polluting variety. In Romania, they intend to resume the work of coal-fired power plants, in Germany to extend the operation of those that have not yet been closed. Italy agrees to reuse already disabled. Growing interest in coal has managed to push coal prices up, casting doubt on the impression that after the International Climate Forum in Glasgow in November 2021, the world embarked on the path of widespread closures of mines.
Step forward, two steps back
In the European Union, waging an economic war against Russia by stimulating dirty energy is called a temporary measure. This word – “temporary” – was used by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, explaining to his voters the need to resume the operation of coal-fired nuclear power plants. And Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi resorted to it. Temporary coal projects are called in Portugal, Romania and the Czech Republic.
From the official point of view of these countries, the foreseeable future should bring Europe progress in renewable energy. Over time, they are designed to replace polluting coal, making any purchases of hydrocarbons meaningless. But without further explanation, this prospect does not look convincing.
After all, if renewable energy sources were reliable, the Old World could rely on them earlier. In reality, windless weather over the North Sea in the summer of 2021 led to a huge shortage of renewable fuels, instantly exacerbated dependence on gas and provoked an ongoing energy crisis. What can prevent the same scenario from repeating in the future? Coal projects and even dirty American LNG are called temporary solutions.

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