When countries set out their cases for energy independence, the main reason is generally cited as the need to ease reliance on oil and gas from unfriendly places. President Barack Obama's 'All of the Above' energy strategy for example, a plan that has seen this US administration extract more fossil fuels than any other, is very much predicated on the need to lessen oil imports from Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Our reluctant reliance on Russian gas
As the current Ukraine - Russia conflict escalates, the US is urging tough actions and sanctions whilst the EU are pushing the diplomatic route; there is good reason for this. While the EU has reduced their reliance on Russian gas from 45% in 2003 to 30% today, they are still fearful that Russia could shut off their gas pipelines to Europe. This would be catastrophic not least for Europe's powerhouse, Germany, who get 60% of their gas supply from Russia. Such a measure would hit EU financial markets like a bomb and cause a realistic fear of power blackouts.
Cosy partnership of Putin and Gazprom
The conflict in Ukraine has also highlighted the rosy partnership between Russia and the state owned energy company Gazprom; when Gazprom recently threatened to cut off the gas supply to Ukraine it was essentially acting out Putin's orders. Reversely when environmental group Greenpeace staged a peaceful protest at an Gazprom oil rig in the Russian Arctic last autumn and their ship was seized and crew sent to prison for two months, it was Gazprom who had asked Putin to come down hard on the activists. Gazprom and Putin's government - a rosy partnership that works both ways.
Mitigating our dependence on Russian gas
If the EU if were to impose sanctions on Russia as Putin would not hesitate to cut Russia's gas supply to Europe. It will not happen tomorrow, it might not happen this year, but to mitigate this risk the EU must start to put in place a strategy for phasing out Russian gas.
Surplus American shale gas
The US will undoubtedly encourage a US-EU trade deal in which the EU can import surplus US shale gas. Due to the recent fracking boom in the US, which has been leading to the world's largest economy switching from being a gas importer to a gas exporter in less than a decade, they have an abundance of shale gas available.
Renewables are a key part of the solution
However I believe that that the EU should instead focus on how we can reduce our reliance on gas in the energy system altogether, with the first step being raising the EU renewable energy 2020 target to 40% (from the existing 20%). Furthermore EU member states with experience in renewables, should assist Ukraine with their expertise and help co-develop a strategy for how they can tap into their enormous potential for wind and solar power. Ukraine must also outline a strategy that should see them becoming self reliant in gas via energy efficiency, possibly even producing surplus which they could export to the EU.
What this most recent geopolitical energy crisis has highlighted is the unscrupulous nature of the current regime in Russia, and the precarious nature of the dependency several parts of the world has on its energy resources. Unless Russia starts to suddenly change their strategy on energy, we must from here on label them one of the unfriendly countries we should not trade fossil fuels with and immediately start to put in place sensible and realistic mitigation measures for the long term.
Also published on A greener life, a greener world.