No non-renewables were used for the production of this article.
The exploration of resources in the earth’s shale layer has been made possible thanks to the development of fracking, a method that injects the rock with a cocktail of chemicals with water which allows for the extraction of oil or gas, whilst draining water reserves, polluting them, and provoking seismic activity. Each country needs to access if the trade-off is worth it. Is making agricultural production unfeasible (due to water constraints and environmental damage) and risking earthquakes a good trade for cheap and available gas and oil?
In the US, the answer is yes. The geological exploration (which takes about 5 years to be conducted), the test drilling, and the commercial drilling followed the unexpected American energy independence. It took years to happen but when it did, the tipping point meant many tittles announcing the new geopolitical shift. Joseph Nye explains some of the changes very well: “At the same time, the US’ bargaining position in world politics should be enhanced. Power arises from asymmetries in interdependence. You and I may depend on each other, but if I depend on you less than you do on me, my bargaining power is increased.”
Though the relaxed laws allowed for a fast start, normal to any unexplored new technologies, the poor general awareness permitted the exploration of resources with little popular resistance, later affected by it.
According to the International Energy Agency, “Energy Security can be described as the ineterrupt physical availability at a price which is affordable while respecting environmental concerns.” The definition Tangos with fracking, but the music gets louder in Europe, but has a slower pace.
Resistance has effectively stalled any major developments in Europe. The countries can be divided into those which have started exploratory drilling, those which are preparing regulatory framework, and those whose civil society pressure or governmental caution have slowed any development. France’s Hollande has promised to halt any fracking efforts. Germany is preparing regulatory framework, while the U.K. has issued exploratory licences, along with Spain, Denmark and Romania. More info (December 2014) here.
The debate gets way more interesting in Eastern-Europe: “Likewise, Russia has enjoyed leverage over Europe and its small neighbours through its control of natural gas supplies and pipelines. As North America becomes self-sufficient in gas, more from various other regions will be freed up to provide alternative sources for Europe, thereby diminishing Russia’s leverage.” says Nye in 2012. While this wasn’t exactly proven, at least not so far, Russia’s “leverage” has been one of guaranteeing dependability on its resources in order for its own to be sustainable and indeed powerful.
Is Putin behind every tree? Probably not, yet Rasmussen, NATO`s leader relates Russia to environmental NGOs: “I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engage actively with so-called non-government organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — obviously to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
To get a better understanding of the map above, we ought to look just how much it matters the import of gas to each country in the share of energy consumption, whether for domestic use or industrial usage, transport or production of electricity in power plants. Remember that to aggravate this dependency, many of these countries rely on Russian Nuclear Fuel for its nuclear power plants, or, more easily replaceable, crude oil.
It was particularly surprising to see grass root movements from Bulgaria and Romania fight off governmental efforts do develop their own shale gas production, but in the light of the conflict in Ukraine, energy security has become a more pressuring matter in Europe.
Poland`s more assertive decision to decrease its dependency on Russia energy supplies along with its large shale supplies have made it EU`s poster child for this energy. The indication that shale gas is less pollutant than coal, Poland`s major energy source (domestic) accounts for around 50% of its energy consumption, means that the worrying indicators of pollution can most likely be brought down if it shifts to fracking, of course, trading one environmental hazard for another, yet a positive transitional energy source, though the debate on the results still remains open.
It is very interesting to pick up a few pieces of Russian media on this matters, if accepting them as pieces of propaganda, they can really tell what is discussed in the Kremlin, whether it is the the replacement of Ukraine’s nuclear fuel source, or this country shale gas development. Poland and Ukraine have a somewhat similar energy portfolio. Ukraine has relied in the Donbas area (Luhanks and Donetsk regions) coal extraction for its energy for quite some time, and whilst not so heavily dependent of this source as Poland, the “grab” of this area and the non-utilization of this resources only adds to the Russian dependency, along with Crimean prospect resources.
Kolomoisky, an Ukrainian oligarch has reportedly started the exploration of the Ukrainian shale gas resources eastern part, on the border with Donetsk and Luhasnk and the conflict, being the other part closely to Lviv. Whilst I couldn’t verify this claim, truth is that his company, Burisma Holdings, does in fact have two heavyweights on the board, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and Hunter Biden, son of the American Vice-President Joe Biden.
The economic link to Russia has effectively been destroyed due to the war in Ukraine, yet the energetic dependence will keep Ukraine having to face Russia for years to come, particularly now that it has been deprived of its coal reserves and not that many companies want to start exploring its eastern shale reserves fields.
On a last note, shale is no miracle and its exploration takes years in order to be useful for any country since many wells have to be drilled. Some say that the exploration of this resource in Eastern Europe is “inevitable“.
The sooner we accept that our energetic demands have consequences, that our consumption pollutes and endangers our future, the easier it will be to accept the development of fracking in the continent. Either its coal, oil , or just gas, unless we change to expensive renewables, we are going to have to keep risking it all. It is more than just Geopolitics.
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