Today’s big question

What happens if Russia turns off gas supplies to Europe?

Deputy PM Alexander Novak stokes fears of ‘energy war’ following US threat to ban Russian oil

Russia has threatened to shut down a major gas pipeline to Germany after the US pushed for a ban on oil imports from Moscow to Europe.

Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak “stoked fears of an energy war” by warning that the Kremlin might impose an embargo on gas pumping through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, said The Guardian.

Moscow hit back after Joe Biden called for a boycott of Russian oil over the invasion of Ukraine, during a video conference yesterday with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain.

Novak claimed that cutting Russian oil supplies would “lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market”, with consumers facing soaring prices. And finding a  replacement would “take years”, he warned.  

A scramble for alternatives

Russia is believed to supply around 40% of the EU’s gas and 25% of the bloc’s crude oil. So if Moscow turned off the taps, “some immediate disruption would be inevitable”, said The Economist

David Victor of the University of California, San Diego, told the paper that the effects would be felt most acutely in Slovakia, Austria and parts of Italy, while Germany would be the most vulnerable of the big European countries.

Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck has “sought to calm concerns”, said The Telegraph. During a radio interview last week, Habeck insisted that Berlin was “prepared” for the potential loss of Russian gas supplies and could  “give the all-clear for the current winter and summer”. 

But former Brexit secretary David Frost warned that “rationing could be coming while everyone scrambles for alternatives”.

Although Britain does not get much oil and gas from Russia, “we would not be immune to the consequences” of a cut in supply, said Frost in an article published in The Sun today. “Prices would shoot up further. We would have to compete with others for gas,” he wrote.

Frost suggested it was time to “get cracking on fracking”, although Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is so far resisting calls to end the UK’s ban.

A boom or block for green energy 

The Daily Mail’s front page today splashes on the new “dash for gas to break Putin’s grip”. Boris Johnson is to “give the green light for more drilling in the North Sea to help stabilise global prices and improve UK ‘self reliance’”, said the paper. “Ministers are also expected to endorse plans for a new generation of ‘mini-nukes’ to quickly increase nuclear power generation.”

Four months on from Cop26, where world leaders pledged to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, “the global energy picture has shifted significantly”, said the Financial Times.

As European countries look for “ways to quickly wean themselves off Russian oil and gas”, they are being forced to “reconsider timelines of commitments to cut the use of fossil fuels”.

Economist Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, predicted that in the short-term, the “US will increase oil and gas output, and the North Sea may see some further investments”, while EU coal consumption could increase.

But other experts “believe the war has lent a new sense of urgency to the task of transitioning away from coal, oil and gas, which could prove to be a turning point”, said the paper.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted yesterday that she would be looking at “proposals on how to quickly get rid of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels”. And Germany’s Finance Minister Christian Lindner has been calling renewables “freedom energies”.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle is hopeful that “the sudden push to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil could trigger a paradigm shift to clean energy sources that might be quickly scaled up”.

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