Nicholas Lokker, Research Assistant at the Centre for a New American Security
Marie Jourdain, Visiting Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center
Dr. Thomas O’Donnell: Energy and Geopolitics Analyst
Host: Philip Hampsheir, sitting in for David Foster.
From the TRT YouTube page blurb:
Dec 7, 2022 – Top European Union officials are accusing the United States of profiting from the war in Ukraine through high natural gas prices and weapons sales, while Europe struggles with rampant inflation and a cost of living crisis. Amidst rising tensions, a meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and his American counterpart in Washington saw both attempt to send a message of unity.
Dr. Thomas O’Donnell is an American energy and geopolitics expert, based for the last decade in Berlin. He has been deeply engaged in analysis and critique of the German-Russian gas partnership and continues to undertake work on geopolitics surrounding global oil markets and OPEC/OPEC+ states.
A nuclear physicist by training, O’Donnell is a proponent of a European nuclear renaissance over the perceived dangerous illusions of “100 percent renewables and no nuclear” policies. He blogs at GlobalBarrel.com and his Twitter handle is @twodtwod.
He spoke to Kyiv Post’s Jason Jay Smart about Russia’s weaponizing of energy supplies, how long that can go on, and the outlook for winters to come in Europe.
What do you make of the bombing of the underwater Nord Stream pipelines?
We must be clear when we talk about the bombing of Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines – Europe is being subjected to an energy war by Russia, which is part of the larger Russian war against Ukraine. We see that the battlefield war isn’t going well for Russia, so Russia is betting on its energy policies being able to cause enough economic pain for Europeans to divide Europe, with hopes that Europe will then abandon its solidarity with Ukraine.
The title above says much more succinctly what I was hoping to get into in this interview. Below are the beginning of an article I was writing for this blog post. However, a USA organization is interested in using it for an Op-Ed. So, only the initial part is below. I hope to post on this fully very soon (i.e., a published article). – Tom O’D.
In my view, the Biden Administration has unwisely gotten into an exaggerated public clash with the Saudis and OPEC/OPEC+ over their 2 mbd quota cut.
The key here is the need for more investment rapidly into both the OPEC states (which have plenty of oil reserves that can be developed) and into USA shale resources (that are also abundant and need to be more rapidly expanded).
The looming global recession discourages investors in both instances, of course. And, the Biden administration has reason to worry, both if a global recession soon begins, slashing oil demand, and especially if it doesn’t (but, it will).
I agree with Ed Morse (video interview on CNN here), veteran oil-market analyst, head of Citibank’s Global Commodities: Regardless of the OPEC quota cut, given the strong trend towards a global recession, which is proceeding relatively slower in the USA than elsewhere, it’s likely oil prices will be “in the $70’s at the end of the year.”
My thanks to Al Jazeera’s Katya Bohdan, producer, and the digital team in Doha (English) for this well done “documentary” featuring my point of view on: “What does Russia’s gaas cur mean for Europe?” I think it is self-explanatory (and its short). Watch it below or directly at the AJ link here. Tom OD.
Re: Urgente Pedido de Entrevista Periodística – Corresponsales Clarín y La Nación – Argentina
De Maria E… … Fri, Apr 29, 11:50 PM
Dr. O ´Donnell, … Estas son las preguntas para la entrevista del domingo:
1¿Alemania tiene otra posibilidad que no sea seguir comprando el gas ruso? ¿Cuáles serían sus otras opciones?
Repuesta: Antes que nada, muchas gracias por esta oportunidad de hablar con su audiencia argentina.
Pues, debo señalar que hay dos problemas diferentes: el suministro de petróleo ruso a Alemania y Europa y el suministro de gas ruso a Alemania y Europa. Me preguntas por el gas. El gas es mucho más difícil para Europa y para Alemania que el petróleo Hay dos casos: una reducción gradual o parcial de gas o un corte inmediato.
Un corte gradual se puede manejar bastante bien. Ahora Putin está tratando de dividir y conquistar Europa cortando el suministro de gas a Polonia y Bulgaria.
Un recorte inmediato, ya sea por parte de Putin o debido a las sanciones de la UE, crearía una gran crisis energética en Europa. Sin embargo, es importante entender que, al final, Putin está en una posición mucho más débil.
Si Putin corta todos los suministros de gas a Europa, ahora no hay suficiente gas en el mercado mundial para compensar. Pero Occidente, y especialmente EE. UU., la administración Biden, se ha estado preparando para esto al menos dos meses antes de que Putin invadiera Ucrania, incluso antes de que Europa creyera las advertencias de EE. UU. de que Putin atacaría Ucrania.
Can the EU embargo Russian oil now? I explain yes, it can, and how. Also what OPEC will do. My Live Al Jazeera interview on 12.03.22 (ca. 00:20 CET, 18:20 EST). Here are the main points coved, quickly, from memory.
Afer an initial price spike from an EU embargo, the IEA’s SPR – strategic pertroleum reserves – can make up any shortall of oil for some weeks or so or months while OPEC and the USA increase production.
Especially the UAE and most especially Saudi Arabia have significant excess capacity, at least 2 million barrel/day (mbd) they can add to the market. Oil is fungable, there is one global market, so in principle the shock of an embargo could be ended rather quickly.
Regarding Germany: it is the main EU Member state now opposed to an immediate Russian oil embargo. However, I am confident it is being overly cautious and that Germany can do this now without significant disruptions.
In particular, Germany worries about the fact that several refineries in Germany and Central Europe are located inland, and supplied by the Druzhba Pipeline bringing about 700,000 barrels per day of Urals grade oil (i.e., hevier, sulferous oil) as their feedstock. So, the German government is claiming it would be very difficult to supply these refineries. However, this is not such a problem.
Consider that two German refineries, in the South of Germany, Bavaria for example; these two refineries are on a second pipeline, the Transalpine pipeline. This comes from the port of Trieste Italy. So these two refineries are fine. In an embargo of Russian Druzhba Pipeline oil they can be supplied from Trieste.
However, the refinery the German leaders most worry about is called Svedt, and it is located in Germany near the Polish border, also on the Druzhba pipeline [i.e., PCK Oil Refinery, at Schwedt, Oder River, Brandenburg State, Germany]. However, I can make some immediate points about this refinery.
Note: It is indeed possible for the EU – including Germany too – to immediately cut Russian oil imports to zero and not suffer prolonged high oil prices. How? I will explain in a coming post. This is a topic I have been working on intensively the past couple weeks.
I mention some of my (and others’) rationale for saying this in my answer to the second question from Al Jazeera. NOTE: A very good reference on this is: Christof Rühl speaking last week to bne inelligence. I strongly concur with him. (this note added 15 Mar.)
I had a good live talk with CGTN TV hosts on my analysis of a growing “asymmetry” in energy relations between the EU and Russia.
Especially in natural gas, the EU is increasingly dependent on Russian supplies while Russia is decreasingly dependent on its EU market.
Under Putin, Russia and Gazprom have constantly worked not only to:
Build new pipelines to Europe (principally via the Baltic Sea-to-Germany) so as to detour its exports around Ukraine. This has enabled Putin to committ his present massive aggression there without risking delivery of Gazprom gas to its European markets west of Ukraine. However it has also worked to
Diversify its market for natural gas away from Europe. This includes 10-15-years of projects to build new major pipelines to China and Eurasia and plans for more still (e.g., Power of Siberia 2 pipeline), and to build large-scale LNG export terminals, owned mainly by Russia’s Novatek firm, in its Arctic regions and on Sakhalin Island in the far east. This gas is relatively sanctions-proofed in that it can be delivered by ship to any world market, though it mainly goes to Asia where LNG prices are generally highest.
I explain that this growing asymmetry is precisely why the USA-and-EU have NOT included energy sanctions in their package retaliating for Putin’s present war on Ukraine.
26.01.2022. Experts Wahid Machram, market analyst in Dubai; Samuel Ramadi at Oxford University, UK. and TRT Roundtable host David Foster in London made important points. Here’s a key assessment I made.:
There is a new and growing asymmetry between the European Union and Russia in energy supplies – one increasingly favoring Moscow.
Europe has opened itself to energy blackmail. The present winter 2021-22 gas shortage and skyrocketing prices are only one part. There is also the real possibility of Putin cutting off the pipeline gas he is still supplying in the event that Europe, esp. Germany, opposes any Russian invasion of Ukraine.
About the new EU-Russia growing energy asymmetry:
On the demand side, Germany and Europe generally increasingly need natural gas, and are growing more dependent on Russian supplies, contrary to the promises of rapid progress to a carbon-free future of the German Green Party and others. The EU, and especially Berlin, have adopted ideologically-determind, technologically unrealistic and expensive energy-transition policies, with little concern for energy-supply security. This has made Europe increasingly dependent on Russian gas imports – 40% at present of total gas imports,
Meanwhile, on the supply side, Russia, the major European supplier, is increasingly finding ways to diversify its gas customer base away from Europe, to the Far East, especially to China, and to Eurasia generally. It also has new outlets for its vast Arctic gas resources by converting it to LNG that can go by ship to anywhere in the world.
Reportedly, the EU Commission plans to soon include nuclear power in its green finance taxonomy, finally making it eligible for favorable financing and carbon credits on a par with wind and solar.
This could be spun two ways: as a victory for science over populist capture of climate policies, or as a tipping point in Brussels angst at the growing complexities and costs of the “100% renewables and no nuclear” model.
In reality, it’s some and some.
On the one hand, in March, the Commission received reports solicited from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), its scientific expert arm, finding that nuclear waste is “manageable”, posing no “significant” harm to the environment, and that nuclear energy has been demonstrated to be eminently safe.
However, these assessments are not surprising. Had the Commission requested these years ago, they undoubtedly would have concluded similarly. Nuclear, public-health, risk-assessment and other expert bodies have been saying these things for years (full disclosure: my PhD is in experimental nuclear physics ).
The question then is, why is this scientific consensus only now becoming actionable for the Commission?
Here’s my extended interview in Kyiv with two great Kosatka.Media journalists [Read in UA, RU]
18 NOVEMBER 2021 — AUTHOR YAROSLAV MARKIN, TETIANA HUZENKO In 2021, the energy sector of Ukraine faced myriad threats related to the completion of Nord Stream 2, increasing gas prices and coal shortage just before the heating season. At the same time, green trends require decarbonizing the industry and developing the hydrogen direction.
Kosatka.Media discussed what direction is better for Ukraine, whether it should wait for the protection against Nord Stream 2, and where global green trends could take us, with Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell, international expert and senior energy and geopolitics analyst at GlobalBarrel.com, who participated in the Ukraine Gas Investment Congress held in late October in Kyiv.
One of the key messages at the congress is that whatever the ‘green’ trends are, gas is a transition fuel and we will use it for a long time. Are there any other case scenarios? How should Ukraine act in this situation?
In the long run, we want to have a world that’s not dependent on hydrocarbons. The worst hydrocarbon is lignite and brown coal. And that’s what people s\should concentrate on eliminating. Natural gas in fact is a great way to eliminate coal.
It’s actually an improvement for Ukraine, not only because of global warming, because of CO2, but also for the health of the people since natural gas does not produce environmental pollution. So, increasing the use of natural gas (or also nuclear energy) in a country like Ukraine is to the benefit of the environment and to the people’s health.
However, Ukraine is not a typical European country, it is a country that unfortunately is at war. In such a situation, it has found an intelligent way to access natural gas, which is virtual reverse flow.
On Friday, 8 October, I was interviewed, with Aura Sabadus (@ASabadus) of ICIS-London, about Nord Stream 2’s impact on European energy politics on”Strait Talk” with TRT host Ayse Suberker. We discussed the geopolitical aims of Russian and German leaders for partnering on this pipeline.
I stressed, the issue is not whether Europe is dependent on Russian gas – it is and it will remain so for the foreseeable future for up to 40% of its imports. The issue is what route this gas takes to arrive from Russia into Europe.
Consider: Russia historically exported 80% of the gas it sends to Europe using massive Soviet-era pipelines transiting Ukraine, the remainder via a Belarus-Poland-Germany pipeline. However, for 20 years Continue reading →
EU leaders will discuss the idea of creating a strategic EU gas reserve and decoupling electricity prices from gas prices, said the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
– When it comes to gas, we are dependent on imports – 90 percent. gas is imported. The economies in the world are growing, so is the demand. But the supply is not correspondingly greater. We are very grateful that Norway is increasing production, but it seems that this is not the case in Russia, noted the head of the European Commission, visiting Estonia. In her opinion, the solution to the problem are investments in renewable energy sources, which should make the Community independent of imports and stabilize prices.
– In the short term, we will talk at the European Council, not only this evening (Tuesday), but in two weeks’ time at the formal Council of Europe, how to deal with storage, the strategic reserve and we will look at the overall price structure on the electricity market. Electricity prices are high due to high gas prices and we have to consider the possibility of (them) decoupling because we have much cheaper energy from renewable sources, said von der Leyen
On Tuesday evening, an informal meeting of European leaders will take place in Slovenia ahead of the EU-Western Balkans summit scheduled for Wednesday.
According to unofficial diplomatic sources in Brussels, Poland wants the European Commission to conduct investigations into the manipulation of the natural gas market by the Russian company Gazprom, which are causing the increase in gas prices in the EU. This issue is expected to appear at the EU summit on October 21-22.
Back in April, American energy market analyst Thomas O’Donnell predicted that Russia would use gas supplies to build strategic domination. The EU’s response should be to create a kind of gas ‘central bank’ in Ukrainian warehouses and use this country as a buffer, he proposed.
Ukraine is a key element of the strategic gas reserve
– Shortly after the beginning of the Maidan revolution and the Russian aggression, Ukraine, with the support of the EU, quickly made technical modifications to the export pipelines to Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania in such a way as to enable a reverse. This quickly freed Kiev from having no alternative to buying Russian gas, said the expert.
– Moreover, the Kremlin cannot so easily promote favorable oligarchs – he envisaged adding that the implementation of this idea was only a matter of legislation.
– The EU could designate warehouses in Ukraine, Germany and France as the so-called strategic reserves that must always hold a certain minimum amount of gas. In the event of any aggression by Russia against Ukraine or other countries, these warehouses would be launched by a special EU-US committee or within the OECD, and Russian pipelines would be cut, the analyst suggested.
– Gas belonging to Gazprom, which stores huge amounts of gas in Germany and other EU countries, should in this case be nationalized – the expert believes.
Responding to the objection that such ideas sounded a bit fantastic, he explained that this is almost exactly how the international oil security system has operated for 50 years: in the event of a crisis, 90-day strategic oil reserves are deployed in each member state of the International Energy Agency.
My Op-Ed on German motives for Nord Stream 2 appeared in the Dziennik Gazeta Pravwna 4 Aug. 2021 (no. 149 dziennik.pl, forsal.pl), derived from an English interview (below here) with Artur Ciechanowiicz (PAP, Brussels). [Polish Op-Ed link]
Here is my full English interview, expanded for clarity:
1) [AC] What are the consequences of the Nord Stream 2 deal between Washington and Berlin?
[T O’D] Stepping back a bit: this deal marks a victory by Berlin in its long and intensifying contest with its ally, the USA, over which of these two biggest transatlantic powers will decide the alliance’s strategy with respect to Russia and China. The two allies deeply disagree on this matter.
In the USA, both Democrats and Republicans have agreed since the Obama administration that “Great Power Competition” must be the strategy for the alliance versus Russia and China. The Americans strongly feel it is necessary to “decouple” from globalism’s deep trade and tech integration with China and Russia, that these states must either change their disrespect for global trade rules and moderate their increasingly aggressive geopolitical activities, or be isolated and forcibly contained.
Germany, with almost 50% of its GDP from global trade, deeply disagrees with this US strategy [i.e., German exports provide 46.9% of GDP, the USA’s only 11.7%]. Berlin likes global rules; but its unbalanced economy cannot afford trade decoupling and it broadly opposes forceful military containment of China and Russia. Instead, it wants only negotiations and occasional sanctions.
So, Nord Stream 2 is an iconic example of this clash, this “leadership fight” between the USA and Germany over the transatlantic alliance’s strategy towards Russia. Berlin wants to maintain energy ties at all costs, while the USA has long advocated maximum European energy independence from Russia, and to constrain Russia (and defend Ukraine) by forcing Putin to continue having to send gas across Ukraine to reach his European customers.
Russia, for its part, wants to re-incorporate former-Soviet Ukraine [plus Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, and minimally keep them outside of the EU and NATO], and has wanted to avoid having to send its gas to Europe via Ukraine. Moscow’s transit dependence on Ukraine not only provided income for Ukraine, this constrained Russian subversion and military aggression there, for fear that the transit pipelines could be interrupted by either Ukrainian state or non-state actors.
For Germany, the “insecurity” of having to import Russian gas through Ukraine deeply alarmed Berlin. And so it made a strategic decision over 20 years ago to partner with Russia, to build new pipelines to bring gas directly from Russia to Germany [via Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2] and on to European customers long supplied with the same Russian gas but via Ukraine. The aim was to make Germany the new hub for distribution of Russian gas in Europe.
Given Berlin’s logic, the 2014 Russian war on Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea only made it more sure than ever of the dangers of relying on Russian gas imports that have to transit Ukraine, and it redoubled its efforts to complete NS2, notwithstanding this would undermine German relations with three consecutive US administrations and with many of its EU allies, esp. Poland and East-Central Europe – a region where its much-prized soft power has been sacrificed.
I told DW that the key reason the US has always opposed Nord Stream 2 (NS2) was that it undermines Ukraine’s security – as well as Poland’s and other eastern European and Baltic states’ security.
I told DW that one can argue with the Biden-Blinken assessment (as I have) that they “had to” waive sanctions on the Russian-owned NS2 company, insisting that the pipeline was going to be completed anyway. Indeed, German and Dutch regulators had already allowed work to proceed even when the insurance firm and commissioning firm had left due to sanction threats, and Berlin had promised it would be completed no matter the sanctions.
However, the additional factor, which US spokesmen cite only obliquely, is that Merkel’s government was evidently willing to deny Biden a show of transatlantic unity from which to confront Putin. This shows the extreme lengths Merkel’s government had gone to to insure success in her partnership with Putin to finish NS2..
For Moscow, the essential aim of this partnership has been to avoid the “risk” (as Russian officials have put it) of having to export its gas across Ukraine, a country Putin wants to annex and is now at war with.
For Berlin, the most essential aim of this partnership is to avoid the “risk” (as I have been told repeatedly) of having to import Russian gas via what has long been seen by German political and economic elites as an “insecure” Ukraine (although it is obviously Moscow responsible for this “insecurity”), and as an “unreliable” Ukraine (i.e., German elites had lost confidence in Ukraine to reform itself, or at least the willingness to risk the process).
This German pipeline partnership with Putin,, in other words, is a decision to pursue narrow-national interests. It elevates protection of Germany’s Russian gas supplies for its troubled domestic energy system, and protection of Russian gas supplies for its principal EU trading partners, above the interests of Ukraine’s security and independence as Putin pushes to reincorporate Ukraine into the Russian Federation.
Rather than showing solidarity by forcing Putin to continue shipping his gas to Germany and to other EU sates via Ukraine, the gas will now come directly to Germany. Germany will become the principal hub for distribution of Russian gas to Europe, and Berlin will “handle” any difficulties with Moscow and Putin. Of course, Berlin never consulted with the other EU Member states, much less Kyiv, on what amounts to its narrow-nationalist energy-security plan for Europe.