Europe looks to LNG in shift away from Russian gas
Energy security has been a hot topic in Europe since the war in Ukraine began.
Nations have traditionally imported more than half of their energy supplies, with a significant proportion coming from Russia.
Conversations around energy independence have become mainstream since the West started imposing sanctions on the Kremlin. Now, as the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline that links Russia and Europe is shut down for maintenance, concerns are growing that those flows might not restart.
The pipeline’s operator Gazprom said it is “impossible” to reach a conclusion regarding the “safe” operation of a power station that the company says is of “critical importance to the Nord Stream gas pipeline.”
But with many homes, hospitals and schools still reliant on gas to run, governments are urgently looking for ways to shore up supplies.
EU officials say diversification falls into that plan, with a lot of focus being placed on liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The fuel, which sees natural gas cooled and condensed into liquid form, can be transported on boats rather than through fixed pipelines. Experts say it offers greater flexibility.
“There are many countries that can export gas by boat and many countries that can receive it,” says professor Samuele Fufari, president of the European Society of Engineers.
“LNG is a safety valve for everybody. Because you can choose your supply and the supply can choose the client.”
Europe already imports LNG, with 80 billion cubic meters received in 2021.
That volume is about to get a significant boost, following the promise by U.S. President Joe Biden to provide an additional 15 billion cubic meters of LNG in 2022, before raising that figure to 50 billion cubic meters annually by 2030.
There are questions being asked, though, about the continent’s ability to receive a prospective 60 percent uplift in imports.
While nations including Belgium, the Netherlands and France already have operational LNG terminals, other countries including Germany have none, and billions of euros will need to be invested to boost capacity.
Using LNG to plug the Russian gas gap would promote independence, but activists have been sounding the alarm about the potential environmental impacts and locking nations into gas use for years to come.
“Liquefied natural gas is a fossil fuel and we know we need to get out of them,” says Eliidh Robb from Friends of the Earth Europe.
“It doesn’t make sense in the short term to build new infrastructure, because that’s two to three years away and doesn’t serve anyone now. But, it’s an opportunity missed if we don’t move to renewables quickly.”
For now, bolstering Europe’s energy security immediately appears to be the European Commission’s priority. Liquefied natural gas is the fuel officials are placing their bets on.