Swapping One Gas Supplier for Another is Still Gas
Russia’s invasion and its ongoing war in Ukraine have redrawn Europe’s energy plans over the past month. The EU has now set a goal of reducing its imports of Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of 2022. A gas deal with the US to import 15 billion cubic meters (bcm) of fracked liquefied natural gas is meant to offset some of that dependency. That’s only a fraction of the 155 bcm of Russian gas imported by the bloc last year, but it also has climate implications. In the medium and long term, the EU has an opportunity to swap gas from any source for clean alternatives. In the short term, as the EU deals with soaring energy prices. Even before the Russian invasion, Europe was divided as to whether gas was a bridge fuel for the interim, or whether zero-emissions nuclear might play a bigger role in the bloc’s energy mix.
"We have the unique historical chance and obligation to choose now for a radical shift of the way we generate and consume energy," Andy Gheorghiu, a Germany-based anti-gas and anti-fracking campaigner, told DW.
France 24: US, EU strike LNG deal to help wean Europe off Russian gas, March 25, 2022.
DW: EU unveils plan to reduce Russia energy dependency, March 11, 2022.
Cleo Abram: Fracking for Clean Energy. Wait, What?, January 18, 2022.
Why This Matters
This decade is critical for building the infrastructure necessary to hit climate targets in 2050 and reduce the impact of the climate crisis. The European bloc is specifically working to not rely on Russian gas at the moment, but eventually, all gas will need phasing out -- not just the fuel flowing from problematic sources.
IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union's Reliance on Russian Natural Gas, March 3, 2022.
IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.
Across most of the EU, fracking is banned or heavily restricted. But importing fracked gas from the US means the EU is still part of the problem. According to a 2019 study, "over half of all of the increased emissions from fossil fuels globally" could be traced back to North American shale gas production.
For people in the US, Sierra Club's Senior Director of Energy Campaigns Kelly Sheehan said, "allowing for the expansion of new and expanded gas export facilities would lock in decades of reliance on risky, volatile fossil fuels and spell disaster for our climate and already overburdened Gulf Coast communities.”
Cronkite News: Gaslit, February 24, 2022.
NBC: How Deregulated Natural Gas Flaring Is Impacting Texas, September 17, 2029
Moving Forward Without Gas
According to a recent report, the bloc can replace two-thirds of Russian gas imports by 2025 without building new gas import infrastructure following its "Fit for 55” climate package. The recommendations include:
- Removing incentives that deepen gas consumption and replacing them with financial incentives for clean heating
- Supporting investment in heat pump systems powered by renewable electricity could reduce gas consumption by approximately 80%.
- Funding building efficiency projects, which make up the top sector for gas use in the EU, but the report estimates that insulating residential lofts heated with gas could reduce consumption by 14%.
Given that methane's global warming impact is 85 times higher than carbon emissions over a 20-year period, the EU’s decision to import fracked gas maintains the viability of these wells, prolonging the use of gas and transition to clean energy.
FT: Gas flaring - Can we rein in the waste and pollution?, Sep 21, 2021.
Bloomberg: Bloomberg Green - The Dangers of Methane Gas, October 11, 2021.
Bloomberg: How Fracking Became America's Money Pit, July 2, 2020.
TED: End fossil fuels to protect human health, March 1, 2022.