Despite the risks, the EU is pushing to build new mega gas infrastructure – mainly pipelines and LNG terminals.
The EU’s push for gas
While the global climate is warming, and the decline of fossil fuel use can no longer wait, the large majority of Europe’s energy use today still depends on fossil fuels. About 74% of energy consumed in Europe in 2015 came from coal (17%), oil (33%) and gas (23%). With 14% coming from nuclear plants, this leaves only 12% for renewable energy sources.
When coal and oil are commonly agreed to be fuels that need to be left behind, gas still remains a source of energy that is seen as acceptable and a “bridge to renewables”. The consequences of gas are however just as impactful and urgent on our climate, the environment and local communities.
Despite its broad scale of risks, a push to build new mega gas infrastructure – mainly pipelines and LNG terminals – is happening within the European Union (EU). Through the EU’s “Projects of Common Interest” scheme (PCIs), gas projects are subject to streamlined procedures and are eligible to apply for public financing. Other gas infrastructure projects are also being developed without the EU’s assistance.
This push for gas is however not the result of:
> a real need for more capacity – the existing gas infrastructure in Europe is massively under-used. In 2015, usage of LNG plants was 19 %, and 69 % for gas pipelines.
So why is the EU pushing for more gas infrastructure?
> 42% of gas exported worldwide is imported into Europe: many interest groups – both within and outside of Europe – are making sure business as usual can be continued
> Europe is actively trying to reduce its dependency on Russian gas (currently responsible for 29% of EU’s imports) under “energy security” concerns, and thus pushing to build infrastructure to import from elsewhere.
Gas in Europe: gas sources, destinations and impacts
The EU is a key driver of worldwide gas exports. The main share (75%) is specifically imported and consumed by six countries: Germany, UK, Italy, France, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Over 90% of imported gas comes from only four countries (Russia, Norway, Algeria and Qatar); other exporters are Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, Peru, Turkey and Oman. The lion’s share is transported via gas pipelines, despite the large installed capacity for importing gas in a liquefied way (Liquefied Natural Gas LNG).
With a strong desire to be more independent from Russian gas, the EU is increasingly looking for new gas suppliers. From the USA to Azerbaijan, the EU has publicly stated a number of countries it hopes to work with in the close future (among others – but not exclusively – the “potential future suppliers to Europe” indicated on the map).
However, exporting the gas production away from the EU’s sight does not reduce the negative impacts that are inherently linked with fossil fuel extraction.
Local communities worldwide have been impacted by gas extraction in their areas, as various extraction methods pollute groundwater and cause earthquakes impacting people’s livelihoods and health. Sometimes people are forced to leave their homes. The gas industry is also responsible for many deaths (explosions, killings, etc).
A number of the potential new suppliers have political regimes based on corruption, repression and dictatorship. While the EU states it is diversifying away from Russian gas based on concerns of security of supply, it is unlikely it will find more security or ethics in the new supply chain it is considering.
While most of the EU has given up on fracking projects, it is happily importing fracked gas from other countries, such as Algeria and the USA, where local communities must bear the impacts that EU communities were able to refuse.
Besides the very clear climatic impacts of gas leaks (see next page), import of gas can thus also mean support to undemocratic governments, corruption, violation of human rights, and simply passing the burden onto “other” communities in order to sustain the EU’s consumerism lifestyle.
Dozens of gas projects are being developed in Europe. Some are supported by the EU politically and financially by being on the PCI list. Others, such as Nord Stream II, are being developed without the EU’s support and through private commercial funds. Their costs vary from hundreds of thousands US$ for smaller projects up to 45 billion US$ for the biggest project.
A selection of PCI projects to keep an eye on:
Southern Gas Corridor & Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)
A gas pipeline intended to bring gas from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to Italy; it is the most ambitious energy infrastructure to be undertaken by the European Union to date. This means EU support for the corrupt and repressive regime of the Aliyev family, which rules Azerbaijan. All sections are considered to be PCIs. The pipeline project would span 3.500 km across countries as Turkey, Greece and Albania and carry an amount of climate destructing gas to Europe which is unproportionally small (10bcm) compared to the mega project’s cost of 45 billion US$. Furthermore, the impact this will have on the countries it passes through has not been taken into consideration. For example, at the farthest end of Italy, the organisation No TAP is against the project because of the damage it will cause to local ecosystems and also in Greece and Albania there are concerns about farmland and tourism.
This pipeline would connect the gas network of the Iberian Peninsula with France via Catalonia. The first section has already been built but, although it is a PCI, the project has come to a standstill. Numerous social and ecological organisations have complained about bad planning and the environmental impact caused by construction. The Spanish people would not pro t from the project and this unneeded project risks leading to stranded assets and taxpayers paying the bills for over-investment. This is a key pipeline to facilitate the ow of Algerian gas to reach Europe.
A 200–290 km pipeline connecting Poland and Denmark through the Baltic Sea. The pipeline has already received public financial support of 400.000 Euros for feasibility studies.
A huge project starting in Slovakia and ending at the Bulgarian/Turkish border. It crosses Bulgaria, Romania and the north-western part of Hungary. The project comprises four new pipelines, reaching a length of around 1000 km.
The project is divided in three sections: an offshore pipeline between Algeria and South Sardinia, an onshore pipeline from South to North Sardinia, and an offshore pipeline between South Sardinia and Tuscany. In total, the pipeline will be 851 km long and the deepest gas pipeline ever built.
LNG terminal in Croatia, on the Island of Krk. Discussions of building instead a Floating terminal off the island have begun.The terminal would provide a source of gas to the Baltic and Balkan states Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Austria, Greece, Turkey, and Ukraine.
This huge pipeline crosses Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, eventually connecting the borders of Turkey on one side and Austria on the other. The pipeline connects the northern ring of the Bulgarian gas transmission system with the Romanian pipeline (Podisor-Horia) and extends the capacity of the Romanian-Hungary pipeline (Hurezani-Horia-Csanadpalota).
Global Gas Lock-in
Great publications from the network
If you want to read and watch more, see the entire collection under “more resources”.