Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Russian Gas and the Cost of Germany’s Energy Revolution

• September 14, 2011 • 4:00 AM

Doing deals with the Russians to put a pipe under the North Sea gives Germany some flexibility in its post-nuclear future, but at what price?

Last week, in front of a crowd of journalists in Vyborg, Russia, Vladimir Putin sat at a desk and inaugurated a major new gas pipeline to Germany with a banal, 21st-century gesture: He clicked something on a computer screen.

The Nord Stream pipeline is Russia’s first direct gas link to Europe, and, by next year, it should bring enough gas to the EU to generate the energy “of 11 nuclear power plants,” Putin boasted.

It was a reference to German energy policy, but Angela Merkel wouldn’t have smiled. When the Fukushima disaster pushed her to make the quick decision this summer to shutter all German nuclear power plants by 2022, Merkel had to swallow a measure of pride. Russian gas is not her favorite topic; she doesn’t entirely trust Russia, or the state-run monopoly Gazprom, to provide a reliable stream of natural gas.

The point of the new pipeline is to carry gas along the Baltic Sea* floor, from western Russia to the German coast, without crossing Eastern Europe. Transit fees for Russian oil and gas are good business for Eastern countries like Ukraine and Poland, which howled when Germany and Russia announced the project in 2005. And within months of that announcement, Gazprom started to strong-arm Ukraine with macabre, mafia-like tactics.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

European Dispatch

EUROPEAN DISPATCH
Michael Scott Moore complements his standing feature in Miller-McCune magazine with frequent posts on the policy challenges and solutions popping up on the other side of the pond.

[/class]

Gazprom has cut gas to Ukraine twice in the depth of winter — once in 2006, again in 2009 — ostensibly over billing disputes, to either increase prices or end barter-based payment. In 2009, supposedly by accident, some paid-up nations in Western Europe suffered gas shortages and some Ukrainians went without heat. But by then columnist William Pfaff had already observed that the crisis was more than just a power struggle between Moscow and its former Soviet allies. “More important for Vladimir Putin is that … Western clients now are on notice that Russia’s gas exports do not come with a guarantee,” he wrote. “They come with a threat.”

This history was forgotten in most of last week’s news pieces about Nord Stream, which quoted Putin about Ukraine’s (alleged) abuses of control over some transit routes. “As with any transit country, they have the temptation to benefit from their position,” he told journalists. “Now this exclusivity is disappearing, and I believe that our relations will take on a more civilized character.”

Merkel knows better than to trust everything Putin says. Overcoming her instinctive distaste for German dependence on Russian gas is one of the major compromises in her decision to phase out nuclear energy.

Her predecessor Gerhard Schröder in 2005 billed Nord Stream as a way to keep Western Europe unaffected by squabbles between Russia and Eastern Europe. “It now becomes the only option available in the next five years as Germany moves away from nuclear power,” write the analysts at the global intelligence firm Stratfor.

Germany can dig its own coal, and it does plan to open more coal-fired power plants. But burning too much would destroy its own (and the European Union’s) targets for cutting emissions. That’s one of the perceived benefits of using natural gas – it’s lower carbon footprint. But even the “cleanest fossil fuel” is not necessarily clean, as a report earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pointed out. Methane is a greenhouse-gas emission all by itself, more potent by far than carbon dioxide, though it’s safe as long as it moves through sealed pipes.

Traditional gas drilling and piping is far from leak-proof.

“Billions of cubic feet of climate-changing greenhouse gases-roughly the equivalent of the annual emissions from 35 million automobiles-seep from loose pipe valves or are vented intentionally from gas production facilities into the atmosphere each year,” writes ProPublica‘s Abrahm Lustgarten. “Gas drilling emissions alone account for at least one-fifth of human-caused methane in the world’s atmosphere.”

When it comes to building an energy policy, from Angela Merkel’s perspective, those would be Russia’s problems — not Germany’s.

*This article originally and incorrectly said the pipeline ran on the floor of the North Sea.

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Michael Scott Moore
Michael Scott Moore was a 2006-2007 Fulbright fellow for journalism in Germany, and The Economist named his surf travelogue, "Sweetness and Blood," a book of the year in 2010. His first novel, "Too Much of Nothing," was published by Carroll & Graf in 2003, and he’s written about politics and travel for The Atlantic Monthly, Slate, the Los Angeles Times, and Spiegel Online in Berlin, where he serves as editor-at-large.

More From Michael Scott Moore

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


Follow us


That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.