By Mark Milke
and Lennie Kaplan
Canadian Energy Centre

In 2009, the eastern European country of Ukraine endured a twin lesson in geopolitics and energy security: Russia cut off its natural gas supply in mid-winter.

Russia’s public reason was that it was engaged in a pricing dispute with Ukraine. In reality, it was an attempt to influence Ukraine’s government and send a message to its public: you need us to keep your homes warm and businesses, schools and hospitals running.

Mark Milke

Mark Milke

After that, Ukraine made efforts to import natural gas through third-party suppliers rather than directly from Russia.

Fast forward 12 years, and Europe is racing to make itself even more dependent on natural gas from Russia, a country that can best be described as an autocracy. Europe is doing so while it continually discourages its own natural gas exploration and extraction.

Between 2005 and 2019 (the most recent years for which we have data), Russia has been one of the largest sources of imported natural gas for the European Union, sending over €165 billion worth to the EU.

The EU’s dependence on Russia’s natural gas increased when the first of two Nord Stream pipelines, partially owned by Russia’s majority-state-owned natural gas company Gazprom, became fully operational in 2012. Nord Stream delivers 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually from Russia directly to Germany via a pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea.

Lennie Kaplan

Lennie Kaplan

These deliveries are expected to grow by up to another 55 bcm annually when Nord Stream 2 becomes operational in 2022. Nord Stream 2 will also run under the Baltic Sea. As Gazprom notes, Nord Stream 2 is seen as “particularly important now when Europe sees a decline in domestic gas production and an increasing demand for imported gas.”

That increasing dependence is why some German lawmakers, including the head of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, opposed Nord Stream 2 and wanted it cancelled. That hasn’t happened, and Europe looks set to become more dependent on Russian natural gas and gas from other Not Free countries. (The term is from the United States-based think-tank Freedom House, which has measured and ranked countries and territories by their degree of freedom since 1973. Their broad rankings are: Free, Partly Free and Not Free.)

Between 2005 and 2019, the European Union imported over €838 billion in natural gas from foreign sources, an average of nearly €56 billion per year. (In Canadian dollars, that’s about $1.2 trillion and $83 billion, respectively.)

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Of that, about €286 billion or 34 per cent came from Not Free countries and €519 billion or 62 per cent from Free countries. The remainder came from Partly Free countries or wasn’t categorized according to a freedom measurement.

Of the over €286 billion worth of natural gas imported by the EU from Not Free countries between 2005 and 2019, almost 58 per cent came from Russia, just over 31 per cent from Algeria, with just over six per cent from Libya. So about 95 per cent of the EU’s natural gas imports came from countries considered to be autocratic or Not Free.

In 2019, the EU imported €40.1 billion in natural gas from outside sources, with over 41 per cent from Not Free countries, just under 53 per cent from Free countries, and the rest from Partly Free countries or not measured.

That 41 per cent from Not Free countries was seven per cent higher than the 34 per cent average in the preceding 15 years – and before Nord Stream 2 starts exporting even more natural gas from Russia.

Which European countries are most dependent on imported Not Free natural gas?

Of the natural gas imported by the EU from Not Free countries between 2005 and 2019, nearly 83 per cent was imported by Italy, Spain, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Due to confidentiality issues, these numbers don’t include Germany and France, so EU imports from Not Free countries are conservative estimates.

Could Canada help lessen this dependence?

According to Natural Resources Canada, at the end of 2018 Canada had 73 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of proven natural gas reserves. To extract that and move it offshore, a more predictable regulatory regime for investors on natural gas infrastructure, including pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, could help secure new markets for Canada’s natural gas.

Such natural gas – mostly uncompetitive before, given the distance between Quebec, the East Coast provinces (gas deposits exist in these provinces) and Europe – may be more competitive given the rising prices Europeans look set to endure.

A side bonus for Europe would be diversified gas import markets and reduced dependence on Russia.

Mark Milke and Lennie Kaplan are with the Canadian Energy Centre, an Alberta government corporation funded in part by taxes paid by industry on carbon emissions. They are authors of EU Natural Gas Imports: €286 billion Imported from Tyrannies and Autocracies Since 2005.

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