In September 1815, 3 leading powers of the 19th century Europe signed a document that gave birth of the so-called holy alliance. At the behest of Alexander I of Russia, the rulers of Austria and Prussia decided that the revolutionary idea fomented in the French revolution should be suffocated wherever it rises. God given rights of the ruling families were not to be touched and liberal reforms in the whole of Europe should be stymied.
Almost 200 years later, in 2014 and again with a lot of support from Russia, Europe braces against another big idea that would change the face of the earth. Our ancestors fought tyrants for their freedom, the right to shape their lives and sometimes for naked survival of the dispossessed masses.
We would have another fight on our hands but we are not fighting it. The one for energy independence, which I would like to describe as one for energy freedom.
Shale gas technology coming for the US is taking the world by storm and it has already changed it more than the collapse of communism did. For the first time in many decades, the US is free to take decisions on the world stage without worrying so much, what their Middle Eastern petroleum providers might make of them.
Events such as the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Syria and Iraq are worrisome for a whole host of reasons – not least of all when coming to concerns for the fate of human rights in the region. But on a purely economic level, it does not really affect the US as a nation anymore as with all the shale oil and gas supplies from its own soil it can take a relaxed stance.
However, something much more important is happening.
When in 1833 the British abolished slavery, they did not do so for concern of the human condition and because all humans should be free and equal. Their real reason was that the advent of machine labor during the first industrial revolution made procuring and holding slaves uneconomical. Machines soon became a lot cheaper and simpler for the same task.
As soon as machines made slaves obsolete, the economic justification for slavery dissolved and it was abolished. This ignited a movement that should end slavery in much of the civilized world within decades.
Something similar happens in the US today. Cheap shale gas makes Natural Gas an economically interesting alternative for transport companies and other big diesel users. The urge to save a buck saves our planet by the same token, as Natural Gas is sooooo much cleaner than anything else that is habitually used as a fuel.
It makes an otherwise exotic technology (exotic because the application of it is still rare, not because its space shuttle like) ubiquitous. Moreover, it makes engine makers and all other manufacturers in the transport business go mass production on Nat Gas vehicles and devices. This brings prices down and lays a thick foundation for everything from technology to infrastructure to services such as vehicle insurance or regulation to name but a few.
Recently, the Financial Times posted that Gazprom supports environmental groups that oppose fracking technology to be deployed in Europe in order to maintain the companies grip on European markets.
Who is surprised now?
Energy and mineral exports are the lifeline of Russia. There was a whiff of economic liberalization in the Chaotic Yeltsin years and Russia looked like being on the verge of spawning some remarkable, excellent companies in the technology sector and beyond. However, it all has collapsed over the last 10 years.
Russia today depends on more than 90% of its FOREX income on energy and minerals exports. No wonder they are jittery when shale drillers home in on the old continent. The US makes noises of bringing the technology to the Russians captive export market.
But it’s not the gas alone. This also raises the specter of oil becoming useless in the long term and that’s a bigger FOREX earner than gas alone could ever be. Just imagine a world that switches over to clean natural Gas as a fuel for mobility – gas that has been locally produced through fracking. Oil exports would falter and the oil price would collapse in the long term.
That in itself is a deadly threat to Russia (and any classical oil producer) which makes it natural for them to oppose it all. In the end, none of us wants to change and Russians are used to easy money from energy dependent Europeans just as much as we are to government dole outs. We know that our lax economic mores will do us no good (even if secretly we wish that a white knight will come and slay the dragon our problems have become) and so do the Russians know that their overdependence on energy exports will come to bite them on the long end.
But even if you know your ultimate fate, you may be forgiven for trying to squeeze out a few more years (or decades) of the good life before the Cerberus eventually bites.
So it’s all natural for the Russians to support anyone who opposes the very thing that threatens their easy life. Shale developments and fracking technology.
And here so called environmentalists are an easy target. Most of them are strongly left-leaning anyhow and there is still a vibe that the spirit of Lenin and Mao would lurk in eastern realms.
It’s so easy to lure them into a partnership. What a strange one.
The Russians can hardly be described as paragons of greenery. Regular Russian oil and gas fields are environmental hazards with little to compare to in the world and Russia is the biggest gas flaring nation in the world making it a monstrous emitter of anything that should not be in the air we breathe.
If one looks at things dispassionately, Russia is an environmentalist’s absolute nightmare. Just try to be a green activist there and you will see that civil liberties are also not really overdeveloped.
But let’s come back to the core of the question I have cut into. Are Russia and Gazprom secretly supporting environmental groups that oppose fracking? The Financial Times says so, but I cannot produce conclusive proof to support it. Would I be surprised if it happened – let’s say I would be surprised if they did not.
It all amounts to an unholy alliance for the worse of the European people. Shale gas and fracking has its issues but so does the practice of inoculating children against Polio. Is it to be banned for that altogether?
The US has paid the price for developing shale to the point where it becomes safe to use even for jittery Europeans and they have worked out the economics to the point where it becomes revolutionary.
It’s not”Lets spoil our environment in order to deprive some autocrats their funding” but it’s much more a very benign procedure that can very safely be administered and is capable of ridding us of deadly oil fumes, bring back energy sanity and allows us to lay the groundwork for a really zero emissions world.
Because the advent of the gas world brings about investments in the energy chain that can be just as easily piggybacked by the bioMethane and Syngas movement giving them a market to mushroom on.
That’s real environmental protection. Remaining dependent on Russian gas is not.