Western Europe’s energy problem

A major energy crisis awaits Europe this winter. If we take this crisis lightly, we lose the lessons we need to learn for the future. This is not just a natural gas supply problem arising from the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Similar problems are waiting for all of us in the near future, and the measures we will take now may pave the way for our children to live more comfortably and properly in the future.

Although this problem appears only in the context of natural gas today, it is rapidly heading towards a very big resource crisis in general. However, in this article, let’s just focus on natural gas for now.

It is formed as a result of small living things that died millions of years ago, such as natural gas, oil and coal, by staying under the ground for a long time and transforming with the effect of heat and pressure. The bottom of the soil is not always in a uniform structure. In some areas there are always the same types of rocks, in others the rocks are fragmentary. Living things, on the other hand, do not live according to the rock structure of the region they live in and can stay in both environments when they die. Until recently, we always paid attention to these rock types when searching for oil or natural gas, and we drilled wells in places with the same type of rocks and where we could find natural gas or oil. Thus, we extracted oil from this well we drilled until the oil below ran out or could not come out easily. But we do know that there are fragmentary rock structures below, as well as monotonous rock structures, perhaps even more. These fragmentary rock structures also contain natural gas and oil.

Until the early 2000s, it was very difficult to extract oil and natural gas from these fragmentary rocks. Therefore, oil and natural gas production was monopolized by a few major producers. As one of the first countries to start oil production, the USA was a net oil importer in the early 2000s as it rapidly depleted its resources.

The way to extract the oil and gas in the fragmented rocks is to break the rocks and allow the gas or oil to leak out, and then collect those leaked substances. For this, first a vertical well is dug, then the pipe is continued to the side, a pressurized water mixture is given from the extending pipe, and the rocks are broken up and collected by waiting for the fossil fuels to leak. As can be easily seen, this method has two important drawbacks, first of all, it requires excessive use of water and it causes great damage to nature and especially to groundwater as it breaks up the rocks.

In the last twenty years, oil and natural gas production has entered a new era, as the producers drilling these wells in the USA encountered a state structure that says “produce oil or whatever you produce”. The shale gas and shale oil extracted from the fragmentary rocks has made the USA one of the most important oil and natural gas producers. Although the investment required for the export of the oil produced is not high, both the export and import of natural gas require serious investment. Before transporting natural gas by ships, it is necessary to cool and compress it, then heat it at the point it arrives and expand it slowly. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is not easy to trade, as the facilities that will carry out these two processes cost billions of dollars.

Since Japan and South Korea have not had access to natural gas transported by pipelines for a long time due to geographical reasons, the LNG infrastructure of these two countries and China, which was added to them later, has developed. Qatar, which has become the main LNG exporter in recent years, and the USA, which has been added to this category later, sell LNG to the Asian market.

At this point, the Russia-Ukraine crisis broke out. Russian natural gas has been connected to Europe for many years through the Nord Stream 1, Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream pipelines. Although the rhetoric pursues renewable energy, the European Union has built its energy decarbonization strategy not as getting out of coal and turning to the sun and wind, but turning from coal to natural gas. With the influence and support of the Green Party, and the nuclear exit in Germany until the end of 2022, Germany in particular remained completely dependent on natural gas. On top of that, another hard-to-believe situation was added. Germany does not have a gasification terminal where it can import LNG. Considering that there are three of these terminals even in our country, it can be easily seen how much Germany depends on Russia for this precious raw material.

The European Union, which is so dependent on Russia in terms of energy, relied on two main points when it decided to impose heavy sanctions on Russia in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The first of these was that the war would be resolved quickly and the situation would return to the past by winter, and the USA would close the decreasing gas flow on the Russian side with LNG exports during this time. On both these points, the opinion of the European Union was wrong, neither a quick end to the war nor the USA could provide sufficient LNG to the EU. An explosion at Freeport, the US’s most important LNG export terminal, halted exports to the EU from there until at least the beginning of January. Since the LNG infrastructures, appetites and financial possibilities of Asian countries are also in place, natural gas shipments to Western Europe seem to be left to an agreement with Russia at the moment.

In this context, our country also has important lessons to be learned. As for natural gas, we are actually in a much better position than Western Europe, we get natural gas through pipelines from multiple sources as well as from our three LNG gasification terminals. However, this does not mean energy independence. Seeing the problem in Germany, we must quickly become a state to produce our own electrical energy. In addition, we must quickly start electrifying the production and usage systems in our country.