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Can Europe’s Largest Economy Survive Without Coal?

Can Europe’s Largest Economy Survive Without Coal?

Germany Coal

One of the greatest moral dilemmas that has been creeping into the everyday activities of specialists working with coal, oil and in some cases even gas (despite its being perceived a natural bridge to a low-carbon future) could be phrased in the following way: how do you stop producing fossil fuels when you still have cheap ample reserves? In this context coal stands out – its relative inferiority in terms of environmental pollution prompted governments in developed economies to ban its future usage. Yet whenever its production is not curtailed by government-mandated cuts, producers simply continue to extract as much coal as possible. Straight in the middle of the so-called European approach to coal lies Germany, an erstwhile bulwark of the coal industry. Can it eventually survive without coal?

In stark contrast to oil and gas – of which Germany has traditionally been a major net importer and in both cases looking back to a more than 50-year history of depending on primarily Russian hydrocarbon riches – Europe’s leading economy has substantial reserves of coal, lignite in particular. In fact, Germany remains the world’s largest producer of lignite and burns most of it for power generation, accounting for some 22 percent of the nation’s gross electricity output. Ironically, lignite production is more COintensive than hard coal as it is done by extracting coal from open-cast pits, nevertheless, its mid-term future looks a lot better than that of hard coal mining in Germany.

Whilst lignite remains economically competitive, Germany’s hard coal production went downhill after the government ended its subsidy schemes. The last hard coal mine closed its gates in December 2018, ending a 200-year history of the Ruhr Region and potentially starting a new development phase of Westphalia, a geographical phenomenon inextricably intertwined with coal. 

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Russia Bets Big On The World’s Least Explored Oil Frontier

Russia Bets Big On The World’s Least Explored Oil Frontier

offshore africa

When the inaugural Russia-Africa summit was held in October 2019, most industry observers believed that the majority of projects under discussion would not get past the FID stage – in no small part because of their varied economic prospects. As well as wheat exports, nuclear technologies, conventional weaponry and ore mining, oil loomed large on the agenda. With the OPEC+ agreement entering its third consecutive year and oil prices stabilizing around $60 per barrel, Russian oil firms have enough cash to invest but face an uncertain future with domestic projects as no one really wants to see their own project ending up in the category of “spare production capacity”.

International sanctions and the ramifications they entail have compelled Russia to look beyond their usual investment regions – with little to no investments in Europe since 2014. Gazprom is now an unwelcome investor in Europe and even the privately-owned LUKOIL has mulled divesting its downstream assets and has reduced its retail presence in Europe. Investing in the United States or Canada is completely out of question for reasons predominantly political, whilst Middle Eastern NOCs have grown to become competitors, themselves looking for opportunities to diversify their portfolio. Due to all of the above factors, Africa has emerged somewhat naturally as a suitable region for Russian investment.

The Russian Energy Ministry has repeatedly declined to link Russia’s newly-found interest in Africa and the OPEC+ curtailments, saying that greenfield projects usually require 5-7 years before commissioning and thus the time gap between today’s issues and future production is too wide to impact any forecasts.

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The Beginning Of The End For British Shale Gas

The Beginning Of The End For British Shale Gas

Surrey shale

Amid the ruckus of Great Britain’s reckless Brexit saga, one might not have noticed the ongoing environmental battle that could put a sudden end to shale gas development in the UK. While Britain’s energy security does not have any direct links to Brexit – its hydrocarbon production went into decline in 2000 and has been falling ever since, although the mid-2010s evidenced a stabilization of output – the UK High Court decision over the nation’s shale gas projects might deal a painful blow to the little hope British producers had to kick-start something new. All 9 basins of the Greater North Sea are mature and it is only until 2025-2027 that the current output rebound can last, after that Britain’s oil output will plunge Venezuela-style unless additional measures are taken.

There is no scientific consensus on how much shale gas can be recovered across the United Kingdom. We might use the British Geological Survey’s 2013 report as a point of reference, which states that across central Britain (Bowland-Hodder shales) the aggregate shale gas reserves are somewhere within the 164-264-447 TCf interval (P90-P50-P10). Even if it were true, due to the rather difficult lithography of central Britain the actual recoverable volume would be substantially smaller. The USGS has put the total recoverable gas resources in the Midlands area of England at 8.3 TCf. The Weald Basin in southern Britain and Northern Ireland also has shale gas resources, but they are in a less advanced stage of development than shale finds in Lancashire or Nottinghamshire.

Partially motivated by the emotional drain of Brexit and the necessity to present itself as an employment creating party, the Conservative Party (seemingly) made great headway last year in advancing the cause of developing UK shale gas resources and creating the regulative norms required for it.

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The Mediterranean Pipeline Wars Are Heating Up

The Mediterranean Pipeline Wars Are Heating Up

Caspian pipeline

Things have been quite active in the Eastern Mediterranean lately, with Israel, Cyprus and Greece pushing forward for the realization of the EastMed pipeline, a new gas conduit destined to diversify Europe’s natural gas sources and find a long-term reliable market outlet for all the recent Mediterranean gas discoveries. The three sides have reached an agreement in late November (roughly a year after signing the MoU) to lay the pipeline, the estimated cost of which hovers around $7 billion (roughly the same as rival TurkStream’s construction cost). Yet behind the brave facade, it is still very early to talk about EastMed as a viable and profitable project as it faces an uphill battle with traditionally difficult Levantine geopolitics, as well as field geology.

The EastMed gas pipeline is expected to start some 170 kilometers off the southern coast of Cyprus and reach Otranto on the Puglian coast of Italy via the island of Crete and the Greek mainland. Since most of its subsea section is projected to be laid at depths of 3-3.5 kilometer, in case it is built it would become the deepest subsea gas pipeline, most probably the longest, too, with an estimated length of 1900km. The countries involved proceed from the premise that the pipeline’s throughput capacity would be 20 BCM per year (706 BCf), although previous estimates were within the 12-16 BCm per year interval. According to Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli Energy Minister, the stakeholders would need a year to iron out all the remaining administrative issues and 4-5 years to build the pipeline, meaning it could come onstream not before 2025.

The idea of EastMed was first flaunted around 2009-2010 as the first more or less substantial gas discovery in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Tamar gas field in Israel’s offshore zone, paved the way for speculations about an impending gas boom.

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Is Renewable Energy As Clean As We Think?

Is Renewable Energy As Clean As We Think?

Solar panels

Fossil fuel energy has understandably become the clay pigeon of environmentalists in the past decades – with oil & gas companies having lied too often about the impact of their activities on climate change or environmental pollution for the public to ignore. Oil spills have destroyed many a habitat both onshore and offshore, with an immeasurable number of animals and humans having suffered. But it is important to acknowledge that oil and gas companies are not the only guilty parties, with all types of energy production leading to environmental harm in one way or another. The ‘clean’ energy narrative that is so frequently pushed by renewable advocates may not be quite as clean as you think.

This is not a rallying cry against renewable energy, the energy community needs renewables, it needs various regions specializing in different forms of energy in order to provide for the seamless coexistence of fossil and non-fossil energy sources. Nevertheless, it seems strange that so little progress has been made in identifying and dealing with the environmental risks of renewables.

Wind energy is considered to be the renewable energy source which is the most commercially attractive under current market conditions – in fact, it is so attractive that since 2012 more GW of wind power were installed in the United States than of any other resource, including fossil fuels. It is common enough to hear that wind farms are a blight on the landscape, but that complaint doesn’t carry any environmental significance. Noise, on the other hand, can have a tangible impact on the environment.

Wind plants reach a sound pressure level of 90-100 decibels, with scientific studies suggesting that exposure to such a level of noise will lead to annoyance, sleep disturbances, headaches, anxiety, depression and cognitive dysfunction.

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Why Russian Gas Is Critical For The UK

Why Russian Gas Is Critical For The UK

LNG

Although some companies have learned to ride the waves of geopolitics quite efficiently, still in most cases political tensions only complicate the dealings of energy companies. The Skripal poisoning case has driven a massive political wedge between the United Kingdom and Russia (nations whose relations are historically strained already) and is on the verge of blighting their energy ties. The UK Government’s threats to ban Russian gas imports altogether would be a very short-sighted step, the harm of which would take many years to undo. As opposed to the usual rhetoric of ‘‘safeguarding energy security“ and ‘‘countering Russian influence“, both London and Moscow have a lot to win from a good energy relationship.

The Skripal case is slowly turning into a whodunnit where no one will tell you what really happened and you have to reconstruct everything by yourself – why was the allegedly lethal nerve agent not that lethal, who perpetrated the poisoning and how exactly. Usually when analyzing foreign affairs‘ scandals, it is imperative to look at who could benefit from such a deterioration. One thing is for sure – energy companies only stand to lose. Firstly, British companies might see their maneuvering space narrowed down, especially against the background of Brexit jeopardizing Britain’s adherence to the internal energy market (IEM) of Europe. Although the May government wishes to remain in the IEM, so as not to risk the potential $700 million per year expenses it could bear in a worse-case scenario breakup.

Even if a disaster can be averted and the United Kingdom would stay, regardless if in a limited or full-fledged manner, in the IEM, infrastructure funding from EU funds will almost certainly evaporate. This could be one of the Brexit’s most serious energy consequences, since 16 EU projects of common interest are UK-related, without funding from Brussels, many fall into the risk category of not being implemented.

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Russia Is Taking Over Syria’s Oil And Gas

Russia Is Taking Over Syria’s Oil And Gas

Russia

If finally happened…

In accordance with an energy cooperation framework agreement signed in late January, Russia will have exclusive rights to produce oil and gas in Syria.

The agreement goes significantly beyond that, stipulating the modalities of the rehabilitation of damaged rigs and infrastructure, energy advisory support, and training a new generation of Syrian oilmen. Still, the main international aspect and the key piece of this move is the final and unconditional consolidation of Russian interests in the Middle East.

Before the onset of the blood-drenched Civil War, Syrian oil production wavered around 380,000 barrels per day. It has declined for some time then, since its all-time peak production rate of 677,000 barrels per day in 2002. Although the Islamic State was allegedly driven underground, the current output still stands at a devastating 14–15,000 barrels per day.

As for gas, the production decline proved to be lower (it fell from 8 BCm/year to 3.5 BCm/year) due to its greater significance within the domestic economy. 90 percent of the produced gas in Syria was used for electricity production (as opposed to oil, which was either refined domestically or exported), and in view of this, the government took extra care to retake gas fields first as the prospects of reconquest became viable enough.

It’s an understatement to say that whoever takes over Syria’s energy sector will receive a desolate ruin. The country’s refineries need thorough reconstruction after their throughput capacity has halved from the pre-war level of 250,000 barrels per day. This task will most likely be carried out by Iranian companies, in accordance with agreements signed in September last year, which also involved the reconstruction of Syria’s damaged power grid.

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The Beginning Of The End For Norwegian Oil

The Beginning Of The End For Norwegian Oil

Norway

The demise of the North Sea doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Norway’s petroleum era—far from it. Still, despite significant reserves in the Barents Sea, Norway is about to embark upon a long period of structural decline as its benchmark fields inch closer to depletion and its reserves taper before our very eyes.

The average Norwegian might not even perceive the difference between an oil-rich Norway and one that is past its prime. The nation’s massive external and fiscal net position, as well as its complete energy independence thanks to hydropower, allows for great flexibility regarding future policies. Yet its oil workers must prepare for a future that is much more Arctic, smaller-scale and gas-based.

There’s ample evidence to conclude that all the sweet spots of Norway’s continental shelf have been found. The latest shelf licensing round (24) elicited a weak response, with only 11 companies applying for production licenses. There was plenty to bid for—102 blocks were up for grabs (never before did the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate offer so much, with an overwhelming majority of them in the Barents Sea), but due to their remoteness from formations deemed to be the most hydrocarbon-rich, bidders were only half as numerous as they were during the previous licensing round in 2015.

Other factors also contributed, including ongoing legal disputes whether drilling in the Arctic breaches Point 112 of Norway’s constitution (“natural resources should be managed based on long-term considerations, safeguarded for future generations”) and questions over the admissibility of drilling in Russia-disputed Svalbard waters (10 blocks) might have scared away an investor or two.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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