European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi are embarking on a trip to Israel this week. Beyond Ukraine and Middle East considerations, there is the question of energy cooperation between European and Israeli leaders. The Jewish state discovered since the beginning of the 2010s that it had gas reserves off its coast, without being able to export them to Europe at the moment due to the lack of a gas pipeline. Like Israel, other countries take advantage of their advantage to supply gas to the Old Continent dependent on ” blackmail “ Russian energy, to use the words of Ursula von der Leyen.
United States freed from Russian gas
Thanks to the shale hydrocarbons revolution in the early 2000s, the United States once again became the world’s leading producer of oil and gas. In a position of strength, the Americans were able to decree in March an embargo on Russian hydrocarbons… on which they depend very little.
Having become exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the Americans are trying to use it as a geopolitical weapon against Russia. They pass themselves off to the Europeans as a supplier capable of compensating for Russian deliveries. The argument is intended to encourage them to free themselves as quickly as possible from Russian gas imports. President Biden promised in March to deliver an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to the countries of the Old Continent by the end of the year. That is barely 10% of the annual Russian gas exports to the European Union.
” The United States cannot compensate for the interruption of Russian gas supplies to Europe with an additional 15 billion cubic meters. It is above all a question of image. Here, the Americans want to pass themselves off as reliable partners in front of the Europeans”analyzes Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, director of the Center for Energy at the Jacques Delors Institute.
Qatar courted by European powers
The reserves of the small emirate of Qatar make it a gas giant, the object of growing interest from European powers since the brutal deterioration of its relations with Russia.
In March, less than a month after the Ukraine invasion, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck traveled to Doha to seal a long-term energy deal. This merger concerns in particular the transport of liquefied natural gas from Qatar to German ports to replace Russian gas. In May, the Qatari emir began a diplomatic tour with high economic stakes and, above all, energy, being received in Madrid with all diplomatic respect, in London, Berlin and Paris.
Because France is not left out. TotalEnergies signed this Sunday a pharaonic contract with the Persian Gulf state for the exploitation of the largest gas field in the world. By 2027, Qatar plans to increase its gas production by 60%.
Algeria makes standing calls
Like Qatar, Algeria is courted in Europe in this period of tension with Russia. The Algerian leaders do not hesitate to offer their gas in exchange for the Europeans. The chief executive of Algeria’s leading oil and gas group, Sonatrach, insisted in April that Europe remains the “natural market of choice” Algerian gas that accounts for 11% of European imports thanks to a network of gas pipelines already established between the two shores of the Mediterranean.
“In the short term, the Algerians do not have margins to significantly increase export volumes. Rising prices, on the other hand, allow them to increase their income. Your national consumption of gas, which is used in particular to produce electricity., already absorbs much of its production. On the other hand, they use the gas to further their geopolitical interests.” deciphers Thomas Pellerin-Carlin of the Jacques Delors Institute.
In this sense, Algiers has threatened Spain with interrupting its gas shipments if Madrid re-exports Algerian gas to Morocco, which has been deprived of gas supplies from its neighbor since March. As a reminder, Spain has moved closer to the Moroccan position on the burning issue of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, at the expense of Algeria.
Norway, historical and reliable supplier
Norway supplies 20% of imported gas to Europe, compared to 45% for Russia. Aware of its energy importance vis-à-vis the Europeans, the Scandinavian country has adjusted its production to compensate as much as possible for the drop in Russian gas deliveries.
Norway now favors the exploitation of its gas fields instead of oil. In terms of infrastructure, Norway’s only liquefied natural gas production plant has just been put back into service after the violent fire in 2020.
Long-awaited by Poles who no longer receive Russian gas, the Baltic Pipe pipeline connecting the Norwegian network with Poland should be operational this fall. Despite this mobilization of its industry, Norway has been warning since March that its gas production and delivery capacities are already running at full throttle. And they will not be able to replace, by themselves, those of Russia.
Azerbaijan joins Europe
The country, which owns the gigantic Shah Deniz gas field in the Caspian Sea, seized the opportunity of tensions between the EU and Russia even before the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Connected since 2020 to Europe by the South Gas Corridor pipeline, Azerbaijan proposed in the fall of 2021 to increase its gas supplies.
Visiting Baku, European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, who visited Baku in February, described the pipeline as ” strategy for the EU’s energy diversification policy”. Greece, Bulgaria and Italy already receive gas through this infrastructure. Italians and Azeris are also negotiating their extension into Italian territory. It could be connected to the rest of Europe. As a result, an additional 10 billion m3 could be transported each year.
…but no partner sufficient to replace Russia
New contracts could well be signed in the coming months with these partner countries, at least in the energy field. However, the Russian gas loss will not be replaced so quickly.
” It will not be possible to replace the 150 billion cubic meters transported annually from Russia to Europe with gas from other sources., observes Patrice Geoffron, director of the Geopolitical Center for Energy and Raw Materials (CGEMP) at Paris Dauphine-PSL University. According to this energy specialist, “maximum one third” of this volume will be compensated in the short term with alternative supplies. What solution then for Europe? Patrice Geoffron agrees with another energy expert, Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, on the essential need for the European Union ” reduce the consumption “ for more sobriety and efficiency.