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


September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


September 26 • 6:00 AM

Sounds Like the Blues

At a music-licensing firm, any situation can become nostalgic, romantic, or adventurous, given the right background sounds.


September 26 • 5:00 AM

The Dark Side of Empathy

New research finds the much-lauded feeling of identification with another person’s emotions can lead to unwarranted aggressive behavior.



September 25 • 4:00 PM

Forging a New Path: Working to Build the Perfect Wildlife Corridor

When it comes to designing wildlife corridors, our most brilliant analytical minds are still no match for Mother Nature. But we’re getting there.


September 25 • 2:00 PM

Fashion as a Inescapable Institution

Like it or not, fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.


September 25 • 12:00 PM

The Fake Birth Mothers Who Bilk Couples Out of Their Cash by Promising Future Babies

Another group that’s especially vulnerable to scams and fraud is that made up of those who are desperate to adopt a child.


September 25 • 10:03 AM

The Way We QuickType


Follow us


Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

Would You Rather Go Blind or Lose Your Mind?

Americans consistently fear blindness, but how they compare it to other ailments varies across racial lines.

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.