Framing the Russian Gas

EU Energy Consumption of Russian Natural Gas

EU Energy Consumption of Russian Natural Gas

The tense situation in Ukraine these days can be attributed to a series of causes as they are discussed at large on a variety of media outlets worldwide, but it is beyond the scope of this post to identify them and even further develop on them. This post aims to put into perspective what the Ukrainian crisis means for the EU from an energetic perspective, and question how the general state of the situation is going to unfold for EU-28 in the coming years.

Generally, in the context of the international resource dispute the EU-28 countries have started to change their long term energetic strategies by diversifying their energy mix and resource partners. For example, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster Germany and Sweden have started decommissioning their nuclear reactors; while Denmark is progressively pushing for an ever higher share of renewables in its energy mix.. France and UK are making a move towards gas being it conventional or unconventional. At large, European nations are moving towards less carbon intensive fuels.

The position of the EU countries in the Ukrainian crisis is delicately linked to the EU-Russian relations in a variety of aspects among which the geo-resource position of Russia as a coal, oil and gas exporter. This position is arguably of strategic importance for the EU importing countries especially in areas concerning gas. The dependence on Russian gas can be historically traced back to the end of World War II, but more recent events (the end of the Cold War) have tighten the strings and lead to bilateral cooperation. After the Cold War, European powers envisioned to unify the energy market in the same manner they’ve done with the Coal and Steel Community after the World War II, and thus further strengthen their position as a unified economic power in the international markets. By intending so, France made the first move and engaged Denmark and Germany alongside in a dialogue with Russia about building a gas pipeline extending from Russia all the way to France. This pipeline would feed-in the energetic needs of the transit countries and France, in the context of an increasing energy demand in the West European nations in late 1970s. At the time when this project was initiated it was rather ambitious and risky for Europe, which is why eventually it did not take off. In the coming years France moved on in building a nuclear fleet and Germany exploiting its coal resources, but mid 1990s brought back the need for cheap and reliable fossil resources in Europe. This reopened the EU-Russian dialogue for the Russian gas pipeline (Nord Stream) which was launched in 1997 and inaugurated in 2011. This pipeline accounts for about 20% of the European gas imports from Russia, a share which is prone to increase year by year (CIEP, 2013).

With the expansion of the Nord Stream pipeline in late 2013 the Ukraine transit gas pipeline is facing pressure. Even if absolute imports via Ukraine have changed little over the past years, the share of Russian gas imports in Europe via Ukraine has decreased (CIEP, 2013). This means that the Ukraine transit gas pipeline is feeding less gas into Europe via Romania and Bulgaria, than it used to; and this downward trend is expected to continue in the coming years mainly because of the gas hub associated with Nord Stream and the tense situation in Ukraine. A CIEP report (CIEP, 2013) on the issue argues that the Ukraine transit Russian gas pipeline renders vulnerable Eastern EU Member States such as Romania and Bulgaria which import 25% and respectively 100% of their gas needs via this route (Financial Times, 2014). These nations are faced with the challenge of ensuring gas security of supply because of their relative weak integration of transmission systems with the rest of Europe.

Crunching the numbers shows in fact how little the Russian gas incoming through Ukraine actually accounts to the overall EU-28 energy consumption. In 2013 the Russian gas imports transiting Ukraine represented about 15% of the total gas consumption of the EU-28 Member States, which in absolute terms represented about 80 Bcm/year (2013). Of the total volume of gas import incoming through Ukraine, only 53 Bcm/year are under security of supply ‘threat’, and of meager concern for EU-28. This volume represents a marginally 2.3% of the total energy consumption of the EU-28 (2013) and can be compensated for by the diversification of pipeline routes and the reliable storage levels put in place after the 2006 and 2009 shocks. At large, the Russian gas transiting Ukraine is a sensitive issue when there are no alternatives to address this supply, but alternatives could be set-up through joint efforts. Rough estimates argue that EU-28 can survive without Russian gas cca 300 days/year (2013), an estimate which has improved greatly since the first gas shock in 2006.

When factoring in the recent developments of the EU-28 energetic infrastructure one might argue that Europe is an energy shocks free region. With EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework ambitions ahead, the European nations are making progressive steps towards achieving the 40% CO2 reductions (1990 base year). The means to achieve this is through peak shaving and switching to less carbon intensive fuels; the combination of both is LNG in NGCC. The existing 28 units (2012, incl. under construction units) are expected to be enforced by the additional 32 projected units. This impels for a Europe wide effort to unify the gas network for an increased energy security in the region.

In conclusion, the EU-28 has reasons to be concerned about the security of gas supply of its Eastern Member states in the context of the Ukrainian crisis but the bigger picture shows a unified strong European energetic market, which could easily tackle gas shortages via the storage capacities available and the diversified pipeline routes. As pointed out above, the dependence on the Russian gas transiting Ukraine, is marginal in absolute terms and the diversification of pipeline pursued in the last decade (Nord Stream, Blue Stream) softened the risk of transit related supply disruptions

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Framing Fracking

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Public risk perceptions can fundamentally compel or constrain political, economic and social action to address particular risks. It is argued that feelings are not mere epiphenomena, but often arise prior to cognition and play a crucial role in subsequent rational thought. Cultural theorists argue that hierarchists, individualists, egalitarians and fatalists each identify and define different risks. Each worldview thus represents a different ‘rationality;’ a set of presuppositions about the ideal nature of society which leads each group to perceive different risks and prefer different policy responses. It is them that call for the active management of risk by ‘experts’ whom they trust. For individuals, the strongest constrain is that of autonomy which mainly comes from government regulations. For private actors the constrain is that of common pool resources viewed with injustice in their distribution and bearing risk costs and benefits.
When looking at environmental problems, Fisher argues that different parties understand the same environmental problem differently, and within these different parties, there are generally divergent opinions of what the problem actually is. I will take the next few lines to go over the process of hydraulic fracturing and point to the different risks that this unconventional method for natural gas extraction possess. Ultimately I will explain the way it is currently framed and where the largest risks actually are. The process currently in use for hydraulic fracturing is rather simple in terms of technical stages, with the entire drilling process taking no more than three months on site.

Fracking

Fracking

The initial water bore is drilled using a drill pipe. The boring continues well passed the aquifer and groundwater level. In the geologic formations, thousands of meters of rock separate shale reserves from the lowest ground water reservoirs. At this point, the drill pipe and bit are removed, and a steal tube called surface casing is set inside the well. The tube stabilizes the well sides, creating a protective barrier from fresh water reservoirs. Cement is then pumped into the well through, displacing any remaining drilling fluids, and permanently securing the casing. About 900 to 1500 m above the hydrocarbon bearing shale formations, a specific downhole drilling motor, with sophisticated measuring instruments begin the angle drilling to create a horizontal path to penetrate the targeted layer of gas or oil bearing shale. When the perforating tool is removed, a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals are then pumped at a rate of 15,000 liters/minutes. The fluid generates numerous fissures in the shale thus allowing hydrocarbons to enter the stream.
By combining horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing the CO2 drilling footprint of shale gas is reduced, making it possible to extract oil and gas in places where previously these technologies could not. The US has already seven decades of experience with fracking, having dug “approximately one million wells” since the 9040s. What makes this technique so controversial are its associated potential environmental consequences. Among the most pressing environmental problems it can generate are: water contamination, methane (CH4) leakages and earthquakes.
Firstly, the ‘fracking cocktails’ include besides water and sand which make up a large proportion of the pressurized mixture, “acids, detergents and poisons” substances often not regulated by environmental policy neither in the US or Europe. These substances pose human health risks when entering in contact with drinking water sources. A study published in 2011 by the US Health Institute found in a survey that more than a fifth of the households in a 50km range from shale gas extraction sites in north-eastern Pennsylvania and New York were contaminated with CH4. It is a fact that methane can escape from the casing throughout the stream, but it’s at the aquifer and waterbed levels that this poses the highest health related risks. The water used in the pressurized mixture comes to the surface eventually, containing small but perceptible concentrations of “radioactive elements and huge concentrations of salt”. In cases of poor disposal of residual waters, associated environmental impacts on biodiversity can occur. In order to boost efficiency of shale gas extractions, often enough, corporations choose to not disclose the composition of the drilling and fracking compounds, thus putting environmental agencies in a difficult position.
Secondly, the production and delivery chain of natural gas extraction, through different techniques, is charged with methane release at different stages and the exhaust of other GHG in the burning process. Because of the additional emissions released when burning the gas and the mix of GHGs associated with the production of the extraction facilities, it is relevant to look at the life cycle of hydraulic fracturing and not only at the pure burning of the gas and extraction flaws. Such comparative analyses have been carried out by numerous environmental agencies in various nations. The most influential one was published last year by the National Energy Technology Laboratory in the US. This study concludes that the combined effect of GHG emissions associated with hydraulic fracturing raise the GHG potential of this technique to 32.5 (as compared with conventional extraction which is 25, and compared with coal burning which is 1).
Lastly, human induced geo-hazards are an associated effect of hydraulic fracking, but given their low probability in terms of time recurrence they are often mentioned but not addressed. Give the US progressive attitude towards shale gas extraction it can be now used to assess this technique with existing empirical evidence. From the approximately 75,000 deep injection wells that have been performed in the US alone, only about 8 sites have experienced “injection-induced earthquakes”. The next question is indeed how strong these induced earthquakes were? William Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey notes on a recent study he performed, that “the change was really pronounced […] around waste water wells”. The same study features a brief statistics, showing that since the 1970s, there have been on average additional 20 low magnitude earthquakes recorded in the vicinity of shale gas exploitation sites, with no human health impacts accounted for so far.
Fisher argued that the US environmental law has been since the 1990s been labeled and conceptualized as ‘risk regulation’. But how is that shaped around fracking? A study performed by a Canadian institute argues that the largest environmental impacts associated with fracking are related to climatic impacts and underground caving. The price tag of hydraulic fracturing on climate change is approximately 15 billion dollars annually, with the industry growing. For the underground caving, the estimates come close to 12 billion dollars, but scientists argue that it is hard to quantify the extent of the damage with the poor data available from private projects. Currently the US legislation frames fracking as hazardous technique only from a hydrologic angle, related mainly to health impacts of water contamination. The quantified risks for water contamination, as evaluated by the Canadian institute, come close to 1 billion dollars/year.
One can ultimately argue in such a case that matters are complicated by the fact that the use of risk is not neutral. If risk is understood primarily in quantitative terms then only those aspects of an environmental problem which can be measured will be subject to analysis. Is that what we’ve come to believe in?

Enhancing our Future

Researchers are developing a new type of geothermal power plant which is claimed to lock away unwanted carbon dioxide (CO2) underground – and use it as a tool to boost electric power generation by at least 10 times compared to existing geothermal energy approaches.

The technology to implement this design already exists in different industries, so researchers are optimistic about the marketing prospects of this approach, aimed mainly at enhancing the use of geothermal energy not just by efficiency but also as scale. The new power plant design resembles a cross between a typical geothermal power plant and the Large Hadron Collider: It features a series of concentric rings of horizontal wells deep underground. Inside those rings, CO2, N and H2O circulate separately to draw heat from below ground up to the surface, where the heat can be used to turn turbines and generate electricity.

Jeffrey Bielicki, co-author of the study and assistant professor of energy policy in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering says about the new approach to enhancing the potential of geothermal resources uses CO2 and another fluid, to partly replace some of the water which is recycled in the system. This approach — using concentric rings that circulate multiple fluids — builds upon the idea to use CO2 originally developed by Martin Saar and others at the University of Minnesota, and can be at least twice as efficient as conventional geothermal approaches, according to computer simulations.

Scientists involved in this research believe that the resulting multifluid design will enable geothermal power plants to store energy away – perhaps hundreds of GWh – for days or even months, so that it is available when the electricity grid needs it. The underground geothermal formation could store hot, pressurized CO2 and N, and release the heat to the surface power plant when electricity demand is greatest. The plant could also suspend heat extraction from the subsurface during times of low power demand, or when there is already a surplus of renewable power on the grid.

In computer simulations, a 16-km-wide system of concentric rings of horizontal wells situated about three miles below ground produced as much as half a GW of electrical power – an amount comparable to a medium-sized coal-fired power plant — and more than 10 times bigger than the 38 MW produced by the average geothermal plant in the United States. The simulations also revealed that a plant of this design might sequester as much as 15 mil tons of CO2/year, which is roughly equivalent to the amount produced by 3 medium-sized coal-fired power plants in that time.

The information hereby provided comes out partly from an article published on RenewableEnergyWorld blog, for which one should chew it with a grain of salt. Technologic enhancements to existing energetic systems are good news, only that they usually apply to a handful of sites; which is also the case with the CO2 storage in geothermal reservoirs. Surely on a global scale the number of coal power plants outbids the number of geothermal sites in exploitation. That and the fact that the combination of the two technologies is unlikely to be found in a reasonable proximity to one another, would make the applicability of the  above described technology rather unlikely to be shrink by much the anthropogenic CO2 cloud.

In conclusion, the enhanced method to extracting energy from geothermal reservoirs is welcomed and might turn out beneficial. The more positive aspect of this development is the possibility of using the reservoir as battery with limited losses on reasonably large time scales. This in turn would incur the deployment of financial resources to build the required infrastructure, which would add up to the existing overcrowded system. Maybe it is time for a drastic change in the way we look at energy systems.

#Stop this climate madness#

If only by shouting it into a room full of delegates at an international climate meeting would solve that.

The latest international Climate Change Conference in Poland, which aimed to set the agenda for the Paris 2015 Protocol on Climate Change, turned out to be another diluted environmental policy attempt to address the imminent effect of GHG accumulation in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The agenda was well set-up, and targets were clear, only cooperation spirit was lagging behind. As it generally happens, agreeing on a problem is one thing, and ‘committing’ to solve it, is yet another thing. One of the fired-up discussions in Warsaw centered on this particular term (‘commitment), which did not seem to suite upper developing countries agenda. It can be argued that commitment is too strong of a word when accepting responsibility, and governments prefer to take a margin when dealing with long term undertakings. It was also the case for this particular debate which eventually settled on a lesser term, after a 24h debate. As such, the signing parties consented on not committing to address climate change, but to contribute to the undertaken actions carried out jointly by the ratifying parties. In this way, they would act as an adjacent support to the mechanism, granting help only if their capabilities allow. This type of negotiations which lead to a dilution effect of environmental agreements has been sadly among the few mechanisms which move consensuses on environmental issues forward. The Paris 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change will at least have a foot in the door for reopening negotiations on some sensitive issues such as the transition from fossil fuel intensive energy systems, technological gaps and climate change induced disaster management.

In light of the recent events of Typhoon Haiyan, the issue of disaster management has been a rather sensitive one. Putting climate change into perspective means thinking about the systems cause and reactions mechanism. As such, adding GHG in the atmosphere would cause changes in our climate system, changes in the form of heat and cold waves, extreme weather events and changes in precipitation patterns. All of these changes are unpredictable and their outbreak can generally impartially lead to loss and damage. As such, under the discussions carried out in Warsaw, risk management has been added to the environmental agenda. It is to be seen how cross boundary disasters will be tackled, as the iffy-ness of such discussions raises exponentially with ‘loss and damage’.

All in all, we now look forward for Paris 2015 to ‘stop this climate madness’.

What’s the deal with mega-structures?

The fascination of mankind with megastructure can be argued to have emerged in the early times, only in the course of time this fascination has mainly lead to some form of destruction. Seemingly the quest for new territories and resources, the attainment of security and self-sufficiency, has pushed nations into crafting large ships, spaceshifts even, aquaducuts, pipelines and dams, and the only limit to this has been creativity. The quest continues. One such example is the Indian space programme, a low budget innitiative with high aspirations, which aims to show the world how progressively active this 1.2 billion nation is with their space mission. Only too little is known about the opportunities and challenges that such undertakings bear. Closer to our present days is the Chinese innitiative to redistribute the water resources of the nation such that it will address the growing demand of the Northern provinces. The mega-structure is called the South-North Water Diversion Project, and its purpose is to create a 3,000 km long infrastructure composed of tunnels and canals, which will pump 14,8 billion cubic meters of water per year. Such a mega-structure will link Yangzi with the Yellow River, and will redistribute water from the humid south to the de-hydrated north. The environmental consequences of such projects is rarely accounted for before time, which begs the question: what is the deal with such massively irresponsible risk bearing projects?
Is it that their short term solutions outweight the environmental clean-up that follows? History proves us wrong. Dealing with environmental degradation in the form of biodiversity loss, watter supply disruptions, reduced run-off, mass wasting and pollution, is easier than looking for creative edge-cutting solutions that will ensure minimal environmental impact. The thin line between ignorance and the harsh reality is thining by the day.