News & Current Affairs

August 30, 2008

Energy-hungry Europe warms to Norway

Energy-hungry Europe warms to Norway

Amid frantic newspaper headlines about the possibility of a new Cold War, more and more governments around Europe are talking about their need for “energy security”.

What most of them actually mean is that they are not sure whether or not to trust the Russians.

A gas platform off the coast of Norway

Norway remains one of only two major fossil fuel exporters in Europe

There are only two big exporters of fossil fuels in Europe: Russia and Norway, so the choice – for countries without energy reserves of their own or fast depleting them – is limited.

And, undiplomatic as it is to admit it, the Norwegians stand to do very well out of the current political situation.

Officially, a healthy and productive competition exists between the two countries who share a border well above the Arctic Circle.

“We are also partners,” says Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, “because both Russia and Norway have an interest in the development of the European oil and gas market.

“And we welcome them into the market, because the market will be bigger if there are several suppliers.”

Mr Stoltenberg was speaking at the opening of an international conference about offshore energy in Stavanger, southern Norway.

Transparency

And, alongside the reassurances to his Russian neighbours, he did hint at his country’s trump card, when asked why the rest of Europe should take Norway as its energy supplier of choice.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

Norway offers a reliable energy supply and a stable democracy

“We are a reliable supplier. And we have proved that over many years. And we have a very transparent, open energy sector.”

The head of the conference, ONS Director Kjell Ursin-Smith, was prepared to go even further.

“The situation is very interesting for Norway, of course. We are looked upon as a stable nation, whereas Russia still has a tainted reputation in that respect. So I think we will try to prove that we are a stable producer of oil and gas for Europe.”

The proof of the UK’s commitment to Norway as a gas provider of the future is a massive new pipeline – the biggest engineering project of its kind in the world – known as Ormen Lange.

The pipeline, whose name means “giant serpent” in old Norse will stretch from the Norwegian North Sea fields to Easington on the East Yorkshire coast.

Further afield

Some 745 miles of steel tubing have been painstaking laid up and down the canyons of the seabed, designed to deliver about 20% of the UK’s domestic gas needs for the next 50 years. It came on stream late last year.

The Ukraine issue sent a shiver down the European energy spine and Georgia is a recent episode which will focus a lot of minds.
Malcolm Wicks, UK energy minister

The days when Britain could rely on its own reserves to be self-sufficient in oil and gas are long gone – with a current annual depletion rate of about 8% a year – so there is no choice but to look abroad.

Britain has always made a virtue of its lack of political interference in the energy market, preferring to make deciding on a supplier a matter of pure economics and stress the need for “diversity of supply”.

But things might be changing.

“We’re aware of what’s going on now”, says the UK Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks.

He still stresses the need to source from more than one country, more than one route.

High stakes

But, he adds, referring to the incident in 2006 when Russia turned off gas supplies to its neighbor in order to force higher prices: “The Ukraine issue sent a shiver down the European energy spine and Georgia is a recent episode which will focus a lot of minds.

Map

“I think we have to be – how can I put it? – streetwise, when it comes to issues around energy security. Norway is a great partner to have. It’s a very sophisticated democracy with a great record when it comes to human rights. So the new pipeline is a good piece of democratic politics.”

The proportion of its energy western Europe has to import is likely to rise to about 70% in the coming decades, so the market is guaranteed and the stakes are high.

It remains to be seen whether the big two suppliers – Norway and Russia – will clash or co-operate when it comes to developing what is a potential El Dorado of the North – vast swathes of Arctic territory, largely in the Barents Sea, which new technology is opening up to oil and gas exploitation for the first time.

The disputes have already begun as to who owns what territory. Vast amounts of money are to be made.

Norway has known great wealth for nearly 40 years now, mostly thanks to its fossil fuel resources.

Russia, with an average per capita income still about a tenth the size of that of its tiny Scandinavian neighbor, has not.

And in these days of ‘new’ Russia rediscovering its confidence, reasserting its power in the world, observers of geo-politics can almost certainly expect fireworks.

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August 6, 2008

Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots

Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots

VIEW THE MAP
Durham University)
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British scientists say they have drawn up the first detailed map to show areas in the Arctic that could become embroiled in future border disputes.

A team from Durham University compiled the outline of potential hotspots by basing the design on historical and ongoing arguments over ownership.

Russian scientists caused outrage last year when they planted their national flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

The UK researchers hope the map will inform politicians and policy makers.

“Its primary purpose is to inform discussions and debates because, frankly, there has been a lot of rubbish about who can claim (sovereignty) over what,” explained Martin Pratt, director of the university’s International Boundaries Research Unit (IBRU).

“To be honest, most of the other maps that I have seen in the media have been very simple,” he added.

“We have attempted to show all known claims; agreed boundaries and one thing that has not appeared on any other maps, which is the number of areas that could be claimed by Canada, Denmark and the US.”

Energy security is driving interest, as is the fact that Arctic ice is melting more and more during the summer
Martin Pratt,
Durham University

The team used specialist software to construct the nations’ boundaries, and identify what areas could be the source of future disputes.

“All coastal states have rights over the resources up to 200 nautical miles from their coastline,” Mr Pratt said. “So, we used specialist geographical software to ‘buffer’ the claims out accurately.”

The researchers also took into account the fact that some nations were able to extend their claims to 350 nautical miles as a result of their landmasses extending into the sea.

Back on the agenda

The issue of defining national boundaries in the Arctic was brought into sharp relief last summer when a team of Russian explorers used their submarine to plant their country’s flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

A number of politicians from the nations with borders within the Arctic, including Canada’s foreign minister, saw it as Moscow furthering its claim to territory within the region.

Mr Pratt said a number of factors were driving territorial claims back on to the political agenda.

“Energy security is driving interest, as is the fact that Arctic ice is melting more and more during the summer,” he told BBC News. “This is allowing greater exploration of the Arctic seabed.”

Data released by the US Geological Survey last month showed that the frozen region contained an estimated 90 billion barrels of untapped oil.

Mr Pratt added that the nations surrounding the Arctic also only had a limited amount of time to outline their claims.

“If they don’t define it within the timeframe set out by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, then it becomes part of what is known as ‘The Area’, which is administered by the International Seabed Authority on behalf of humanity as a whole.”

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