FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Europe Doesn’t Need America’s Fracked Gas

In the wake of the Russian take over of Crimea, there have been a number of calls for weaning Europe from dependence on Russian natural gas. Some have suggested that Europe would abandon environmental restrictions on drilling for oil and gas to increase domestic production. To help, the U.S. would continue to massively increase production of oil and gas as well as its capacity to liquefy natural gas and transport it to Europe.

The weaners seem to have the impression that this is yet another case in which the United States has to come to the rescue of those weak Europeans. After all, while we were drilling everywhere, the Europeans were fiddling around with wind and solar energy, all the while making themselves vulnerable to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s machinations.

Reality-based fans of arithmetic see matters differently. The reality is that Europe, especially Germany, has done a huge amount over the last two decades to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels, including natural gas, from Russia. The reduction in fossil fuel use swamps the impact of the drill-everywhere strategy in the United States.

If Europe had not been aggressively pushing to reduce its energy use, there is no way that gas from Russia could be replaced by domestically fracked gas or imports from elsewhere. In addition, Europe’s efforts to reduce fuel consumption have the advantage of slowing global warming.

According to the Energy Information Agency, Germany’s conservation measures have had the effect of reducing its energy intensity of production (the amount of energy used per dollar of GDP) by roughly 30 percent over the last two decades. While the United States has seen a comparable percentage reduction in its energy intensity, its energy intensity of production is still far higher than Germany’s. In fact, the current level of energy intensity in the United States is higher than the energy intensity of Germany’s economy in 1991. If Germany were as energy inefficient as the U.S., it would need over 50 percent more energy to meet its needs.

In addition, Germany now generates almost a quarter of its energy from renewable energy sources. The vast majority of this energy comes from wind and solar, with hydropower counting for less than a quarter.

If Germany and other European Union countries had not been aggressively promoting conservation and alternative energy sources, the price of Russia’s natural gas would probably be close to twice its current levels. The demand for natural gas would be far higher; the only countervailing factor would be the extent to which dirtier energy sources such as coal might have been used instead.

The idea that the United States can fill any significant portion of Europe’s need for natural gas with fracked gas and that this gas could available anytime soon, as hypothesized by some pundits, is simply not realistic. The amount of gas that the European Union imports from Russia is more than half of total U.S. production. It would take an enormous ramping up of natural gas production in the United States to be able to export any substantial amount to the EU without shortages leading to sharp jumps in price in the United States.

That seems unlikely even if we decided to ignore all environmental considerations. Many of the new fields already have declining production, so it would take a huge increase in drilling to fill the gap and add capacity to allow for large-scale exports to the EU.

In addition, we would have to increase our ability to liquefy and export natural gas. This can be done, but it takes time and money. One industry source put the full cost of constructing an export facility at $30 billion. This is money that could be recovered only through many years of exporting large volumes of natural gas. And these facilities would take years to build. Even in an optimistic scenario, large volumes of liquefied natural gas would probably not be heading to Europe until the end of the decade.

If the goal is to reduce demand for Russian natural gas, the most cost-effective way is to do much more of what Germany and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the EU is already doing: promote conservation and mass transit and further subsidize the cost of installing solar and wind energy. That might not sound as hard-nosed as drilling everywhere, polluting groundwater and exposing people to the dangers of transporting a highly explosive fuel, but it is the solution that makes the most economic sense.

The EU model also has the advantage of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing global warming. This is an issue that the tough talkers seem to go out of their way to ignore, but ignoring it will not make global warming go away.

In 30 years, when hundreds of millions of people are suffering from the damage caused by global warming, the tough talkers may want to be able to tell their children and grandchildren about the time they stood up to Putin with their drill-everywhere strategy. The rest of us might prefer to be able to tell future generations about what we did to ensure that we passed along a habitable planet.

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

This article originally appeared in Al Jazeera America.

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail