Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Ukraine oil and gas price spike shows need to build up our own energy supplies

LUBIMOVKA, UKRAINE - MARCH 04:  Unarmed Ukrainian troops bearing their regiment and the Ukrainian flags march to confront soldiers under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. The Ukrainians are stationed at a garrison nearby, and after spending a tense night anticipating a Russian attack following the expiration of a Russian deadline to surrender, in which family members of troops spent the night at the garrison gate in support of the soldiers, their commander Colonel Yuli Mamchor announced his bold plan this morning to retake the airfield by confronting the Russian-lead soldiers unarmed. The Russian-lead troops fired their weapons into the air but then granted Mamchor the beginning of negotiations with their commander. Russian-lead troops have blockaded a number of Ukrainian military bases across Crimea.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
LUBIMOVKA, UKRAINE - MARCH 04: Unarmed Ukrainian troops bearing their regiment and the Ukrainian flags march to confront soldiers under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. The Ukrainians are stationed at a garrison nearby, and after spending a tense night anticipating a Russian attack following the expiration of a Russian deadline to surrender, in which family members of troops spent the night at the garrison gate in support of the soldiers, their commander Colonel Yuli Mamchor announced his bold plan this morning to retake the airfield by confronting the Russian-lead soldiers unarmed. The Russian-lead troops fired their weapons into the air but then granted Mamchor the beginning of negotiations with their commander. Russian-lead troops have blockaded a number of Ukrainian military bases across Crimea. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The spike in oil and gas prices that accompanied the Ukrainian crisis underlines the need for us to build up independent energy supply options.

That means fracking and putting more effort into renewables, like solar energy roof tiles, affordable onshore wind and waste gasification.

Russia supplies a third of Europe's natural gas demand and around half of this flows through the Ukraine by pipeline. In the past, Russia has twice turned off supplies to Ukraine itself.

Germany is building new pipelines across the Baltic to avoid being caught up in the fallout of any new dispute.

In the UK, most of our imported natural gas comes from Qatar, but if, for any reason, Russian supplies were interrupted, we would undoubtedly be hit by the ripple effect.

It is relatively easy for the US to threaten Russia with economic, or diplomatic isolation. America isn't near Russia and doesn't depend on it for energy.

Fracking makes the big difference for Uncle Sam. US energy prices have plunged and the country is moving towards becoming a net energy exporter.

Independent supply is a major strength in an unstable world. Ukraine itself, even under the ousted pro-Russian regime, signed a $10bn (£5.98bn) fracking deal with Chevron, on top of an existing arrangement with Shell, at the end of last year. The aim was to "Russia-proof" its economy.

"The agreements with Shell and Chevron will enable us to have full sufficiency in gas by 2020 and, under an optimistic scenario, even enable us to export energy," President Viktor Yanukovich said at the time.

Yanukovich is now portrayed as Moscow's man – he has lived in exile there since being removed from power in this year's uprising – but even he recognised the need to develop energy supplies that couldn't be cut off by a foreign government at a moment of crisis.

Our Stormont politicians should learn from this. Unlike America, still the most powerful economic and military power on the planet, we have no clout when it comes to influencing international events. Crises, like Ukraine, can come at us out of a clear sky.

Hopefully, this one will be resolved. Yet, when we look at the unstable regions which imported hydrocarbons come from, it would be prudent to prepare for more disruption.

That means building up our own energy supplies and not running away from decisions whenever an environmental concern is raised.

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