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 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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