Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state (liquefied), at about minus 162 degrees Celsius (minus 260° Fahrenheit), for shipping and storage. The volume of natural gas in its liquid state is about 600 times smaller than its volume in its gaseous state in a natural gas pipeline. This liquefaction process, developed in the 19th century, makes it possible to transport natural gas to places natural gas pipelines do not reach and to use natural gas as a transportation fuel and LNG turning out to be a viable alternate to Russian energy supplies in Europe.
It’s no secret that the European economy is decidedly dependent on Russian oil and gas and it has regrettably been a major penetrating point in Western efforts to take any action against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine as the United States banned Russian energy imports, however, Europe found it more difficult to cut off its supplies from Russia.
On the topic of dependency on Russian energy supplies in Europe, according to a report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in March 2022, the European Union imported, in 2021, an average of over 380 million cubic metres (mcm) per day of gas by pipeline from Russia, or around 140 billion cubic metres (bcm) for the year as a whole. As well as that, around 15 bcm was delivered in the form of LNG. The total 155 bcm imported from Russia accounted for around 45 percent of the EU’s gas imports in 2021 and almost 40 percent of its total gas consumption. This share has increased in recent years, as European domestic natural gas production has declined. Germany, Turkey and Italy are the largest importers of Russian natural gas.
Another important factor, perhaps, to consider, Russia also has a wide-reaching gas export pipeline network, both via transit routes through Belarus and Ukraine, and via pipelines sending gas directly into Europe. Nevertheless, Russia completed work on the Nord Stream II pipeline in 2021, but the German government decided not to approve certification in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Additionally, Russia has been expanding its liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity, in order to compete with growing LNG exports from the United States, Australia and Qatar. In 2021, Russia exported 40 bcm of LNG, making it the world’s 4th largest LNG exporter and accounting for approximately 8 percent of global LNG supply.
Speaking in Brussels alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President Biden said that “Russia is using its oil and gas supplies to coerce and manipulate its neighbors.” Biden also said that the United States would help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and would ensure that the continent had sufficient supplies for the coming winter. Furthermore, the announcement also specified that in partnership with other countries the US will supply Europe with at least additional 15 billion cubic meters of Liquid Natural Gas. The agreement additionally envisions U.S. LNG increasing that supply to Europe to 50 billion cubic meters through 2030. This will also help Europe to reduce Methane emissions and using clean energy to power energy operations.
It’s worth noticing that the U.S. has already sent enough LNG to Europe to get countries through the winter. U.S. suppliers are expected to produce 13.9 billion cubic feet of LNG per day this year and will bump that to 16.3 billion by 2024. From a realistic point of view, it will take time for Europe to make the transition. There is a need for European ports to build more infrastructure for offloading and transporting LNG cargo. But that’s underway.
Focusing on the LNG infrastructure, Global Energy Monitor, published a report in June 2021 on the subject of Nervous Money which deals with “Global LNG Terminals Update”. This report provide the results of a worldwide survey of LNG terminals completed in May 2021. Accordingly:
- LNG terminals are among the largest capital projects ever attempted in modern industry, including some projects costing over US$30 billion;
- At least 21 LNG export terminals totaling 265 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) of capacity continue to report final investment decision (FID) delays or other serious disruption—38 percent of the 700 MTPA of export capacity under development worldwide;
- Total’s declaration of force majeure for the Mozambique LNG Terminal, following an attack by insurgents, has highlighted the vulnerability of terminals priced in the tens of billions of dollars;
- The cost overruns, scheduling delays, and high outage rates that plagued the LNG sector were further exacerbated in the past year by Covid-related workforce disruption; and
- LNG import capacity continues on a rapid expansion path, with enough projects in construction or pre-construction to increase global capacity by 70 percent. Of the capacity in construction or pre-construction, 32 percent is in China, 11 percent is in India, and 7 percent is in Thailand. Outside Asia, Brazil is a hotspot with 13 LNG import terminals in construction or pre-construction.
At the same time, President Biden and von der Leyen announced the formation of a joint task force aimed at helping Europe wean itself off its dependence on Russian oil and gas. The committee, chaired by representatives from the White House and the European Commission, will aim to find alternative supplies of LNG and reduce overall natural gas demand going forward.
Natural gas consists almost entirely of Methane (CH4), the simplest hydrocarbon compound. Typically, LNG is 85 to 95-plus percent methane, along with a few percent Ethane, even less propane and butane, and trace amounts of nitrogen. The exact composition of natural gas (and the LNG formed from it) varies according to its source and processing history. And, like Methane, LNG is odorless, colorless, noncorrosive, and nontoxic. LNG is also known for the following physiognomies:
- Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel;
- As a fuel, LNG produces relatively low emissions;
- LNG can help remote communities reduce their reliance on diesel and propane;
- LNG is odorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive;
- When exposed to the environment, LNG rapidly evaporates, leaving no residue on water or soil; and
- In the unlikely event of a spill or leak, once LNG is exposed to air, it will warm up, turn back into a gas, rise and dissipate quickly – leaving no residue. If spilled on water, LNG won’t mix and will vaporize quickly.
Here is a brief history about LNG based on the US Department of Energy (DOE) in collaboration with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC):
- The United Kingdome: Efforts to liquefy natural gas for storage began in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until 1959 that the world’s first LNG ship carried cargoes from Louisiana to the United Kingdom, proving the feasibility of trans-oceanic LNG transport. Five years later, the United Kingdom began importing Algerian LNG, making the Algerian state-owned oil and gas company, Sonatrach, the world’s first major LNG exporter. The United Kingdom continued to import LNG until 1990, when British North Sea gas became a less expensive alternative;
- Japan: Japan first imported LNG from Alaska in 1969 and moved to the forefront of the international LNG trade in the 1970s and 1980s with a heavy expansion of LNG imports. These imports into Japan helped to fuel natural-gas-fired power generation to reduce pollution and relieved pressure from the oil embargo of 1973. Japan currently imports more than 95 percent of its natural gas and serves as the destination for about half the LNG exported worldwide; and
- The United States: The United States first imported LNG from Algeria during the 1970s, before regulatory reform and rising prices led to rapid growth of the domestic natural gas supply. The resulting supply-demand imbalance (known as the “gas bubble” of the early 1980s) led to reduced LNG imports during the late 1980s and eventually to the mothballing of two LNG import facilities. Then, in the 1990s, natural gas demand grew rapidly, and the prospect of supply shortfalls led to a dramatic increase in U.S. LNG deliveries. In 1999 a liquefaction plant became operational in Trinidad and Tobago, supplying LNG primarily to the United States.
Here are the major advantages of LNG:
- The Utilities Sector: This sector realize advantages by using natural gas fired generators to create electricity (lower capital costs, higher fuel efficiency, shorter construction lead times, and lower emissions);
- The Residential Sector: This sector benefits from the higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions of gas appliances;
- The Industrial Sector: This relies on natural gas as a feedstock or fuel for manufacturing many of the products we rely on today, including pulp and paper, metals (for computers, automobiles, and telecommunications), chemicals, fertilizers, fabrics, pharmaceuticals, and plastics; and
- The transportation sector: This sectoris beginning to see natural gas as a clean and readily available alternative to other fossil fuels.
In some cases, conversion to LNG makes use of natural gas that would once have been lost. For example, Nigeria depends on its petroleum exports as a primary source of revenue. In the process of oil production, natural gas was flared—a wasteful practice that adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Converting this natural gas to LNG provides both economic and environmental benefits.
For more than 40 years, the safety record of the global LNG industry has been excellent, due to attention to detail in engineering, construction, and operations. More than 30 companies have recently proposed new LNG terminals in North America, along the U.S. coastline or offshore. Each proposal is rigorously evaluated before an LNG terminal can be constructed or expanded.
Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy, said:
- “Reducing our dependence on Russian gas is a strategic imperative for the European Union. In recent years, we have already significantly diversified our supply, building LNG terminals and new interconnectors. But Russia’s attack on Ukraine is a watershed moment. Next week, the Commission will propose a pathway for Europe to become independent from Russian gas as soon as possible. The IEA’s analysis outlines a number of concrete steps we can take towards that goal. It is a very timely and valuable contribution to our work.”
Taken together, these steps could reduce the European Union’s imports of Russian gas by more than 50 billion cubic metres, or over one-third, within a year, the IEA estimates. This takes into account the need for additional refilling of European gas storage facilities in 2022. Many of the actions recommended in the plan – including stepping up energy efficiency measures, accelerating renewable deployment and expanding low emissions sources of power system flexibility – are key elements of the IEA’s Roadmap to Net Zero by 2050.
The harsh reality is that European leaders have said they can’t afford the consequences of an immediate boycott. Instead, they plan to reduce the use of Russian gas as fast as possible. They’re ordering more LNG, which comes by ship; seeking more gas from pipelines from Norway and Azerbaijan; accelerating deployment of wind and solar energy; and pushing conservation measures. The aim is to cut use of Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of the year and completely by 2027.
However the good news is that Lithuania just announced that it has cut itself off entirely of gas imports from Russia, becoming the first of the European Union’s 27 nations using Russian gas to break its energy dependence upon Moscow. Lithuania’s energy minister said recently in his statement:
- “Seeking full energy independence from Russian gas, in response to Russia’s energy blackmail in Europe and the war in Ukraine, Lithuania has completely abandoned Russian gas. The measure took effect in the beginning of April”.
Years ago, Lithuania made decisions that empowered them with no pain to break energy ties with the aggressor. For instance, in 2015, nearly 100 percent of Lithuania’s gas supplies derived from imports of Russian gas but the situation has changed drastically over the past years after the country built an off-shore LNG import terminal, launched in 2014, in the port city of Klaipeda. The energy ministry said from now on all gas for Lithuania’s domestic consumption would be imported via Klaipeda’s LNG terminal. Last year, some 26 percent of Lithuania’s gas supplies derived from deliveries from a Russian gas pipeline while 62 percent came via Klaipeda’s LNG terminal and the remaining 12 percent were imported from a gas storage in neighboring Latvia.
Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia are also heavily dependent on Russian gas but the operator of Latvia’s natural gas storage said none of the three Baltic states were importing Russian gas as of April 2. Uldis Bariss, the CEO of Conexus Baltic Grid, told Latvian media on Saturday that the Baltic gas market was currently being served by gas reserves stored underground in Latvia.
Last month, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said Klaipeda’s LNG terminal wouldn’t have enough capacity to provide gas for all the three Baltic countries. As a solution, Estonia’s government has proposed building a LNG terminal jointly with Latvia and Nordic neighbor Finland in the Estonian port town of Paldiski, which is not far from the capital, Tallinn.
These are the success stories that should inspire other European countries to explore ways to seek energy independence from Russian oil and gas.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 5 April 2022