Russia Set to Choke Europe
With global demand for fossil fuels soaring, those countries with the lion's share of the oil and gas fields are becoming increasingly rich and powerful. Russia is emerging as a global energy Goliath and has turned off the taps to Eastern Europe on two separate occasions. How long will it be before Russia has Europe on the ropes?
Oil Equals Power
Oil, natural gas and coal reserves are not evenly distributed throughout the world. Those countries that have their own fossil fuel supplies, and have been able to secure those supplies from foreign invaders, enjoy relative wealth and power. In Europe and the former USSR, the only significant reserves of oil are found in the United Kingdom, Norway, Kazakhstan and Russia. What can't be bought from these countries has to be imported from further afield (mostly from the Middle East).
Russia Can And Will Turn Off The Taps
During January 2007, Russia temporarily ceased supplying oil to Eastern Europe via their Belarus pipeline. Russia claimed that Belarus had been stealing oil as it passed through their territory. Belarus claimed that Russia had failed to pay taxes for the use of the pipeline. In the end, the victims were countries at the end of the pipeline: Poland get 96% of their oil from the pipeline; Germany get 25% of theirs from the pipeline, and many other states in the region are also heavily reliant on its supply.
It was not the first time that Russia had used its 'energy muscle' to make a political point. In January 2006, Russia cut gas supplies to the Ukraine during the middle of a particularly cold winter. Supplies in Europe dropped by one third during this period, causing a nervous few days for the residents in those countries who were relying on the gas to survive the winter.
Russia Lays Claim to The Arctic
About 25% of the world's remaining oil is thought to lie in the Arctic Ocean. According to International Seabed Authority, a country can lay claim to the ocean floor extending 200 miles from its coast. None of the countries surrounding the Arctic Ocean can individually lay claim to the vast majority of its seabed according to this rule, meaning that much of it is classified as International Waters.
However, Russia claims that the underwater Lomonosov Ridge, a thousand-mile long structure linking Siberia to the North Pole, is part of the same continental shelf as the Russian mainland. If proved true, this could mean that Russia would own much of the Arctic Ocean, along with its oil, natural gas and other mineral resources. This would further increase Russia's power.
Currently, the resources in the Arctic Ocean are mostly unrecoverable due to the sea ice, which persists year-round. However, most climate models expect the Arctic Ocean to be ice-free during the summer months by the middle of this century, and this makes it one of the most fiercely contested pieces of political real-estate in the world today. Not only that, but as oil equals wealth, it provides a definite incentive for countries bordering the Arctic Ocean to ensure that global warming continues as fast as possible, in order to melt the ice quicker.
Russia may have most of the oil, but it does not have most of the sunlight, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal or hydroelectric power. All countries generally have a decent amount of at least some of these renewable resources, to a greater or lesser extent. An effort to wean Europe off fossil fuels and onto a strict diet of renewable energy could dramatically reduce the impacts of Russia's actions, not to mention the effects of ever-increasing oil and gas prices.
A nice side effect of this economic action will be the reduction of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions, helping to avert climate change and, hopefully, keeping the Arctic Ice Cap intact for as long as possible.
Photo Credit: German Federal Government/Plambeck