Europe Turns To Middle East, Mediterranean For Gas

As the war in Ukraine rages on, leaders of European countries, notably Germany, have come to realize that they made a serious mistake by becoming so dependent on Russian energy. Currently, Europe depends on Russia for roughly 40 percent of its natural gas needs, and European leaders have vowed to reduce their dependence by two-thirds.
So, European countries are feverishly trying to secure supplies from the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Energy security has become one of Europe’s top priorities, putting on the back burner the fight to contain climate change and global warming.

Of course, the gas and oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members were the first countries which European leaders requested to cover the energy shortfall to be created by a future removal of Russian gas and oil from the scene.

However, GCC countries say that they are unable to significantly increase their hydrocarbon exports to Europe, due to production constraints and the fact that most of their future production is locked in long-term contracts with their clients in Asia.

In the past few weeks, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom sent senior representatives to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are major hydrocarbon producers, asking them to increase energy supplies, but their requests fell on deaf ears.

Qatar was the only country that offered some help when it diverted to Britain and Belgium six LNG tankers that were originally destined for Asia and indicated that it would increase its gas production to cover part of the shortage.

The emirate of Qatar currently supplies about 30 per cent of its liquefied gas to the European Union, but none of this goes to Germany, because it does not have LNG terminals. To correct this situation, Germany is fast-tracking the construction of two LNG terminals, but these will become operational in three years’ time.

Last month, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck during a visit to Doha said that a long-term gas supply deal has been reached between his country and Qatar and added: “We might still need Russian gas this year, but not in the future.”

He also admitted that the previous German government had made a mistake by becoming so dependent on Russian gas supplies.

It’s worth noting that US President Joseph Biden last month tried to call Mohammed Bin Salman (known as MBS) to ask Saudi Arabia to increase its oil supply, after the US formally banned Russian oil imports, but as relations between the two countries remain frosty, MBS didn’t accept the call.

Perhaps MBS remembers vividly that Joseph Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia “a pariah state” and described it “as a state with no redeeming social value” over the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and so decided to give Biden the cold shoulder.

Another reason for ignoring Biden is that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE believe that they are no longer supported by the US against the Houthis in Yemen and their missile attacks against oil installations in the two countries. They are also angry because Biden had delisted the Houthis as a terrorist organization.

On March 21, after three drone attacks on Saudi Aramco installations, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia declared that it will not be held responsible for shortages in the global energy market because Houthi missile attacks will disrupt supply.

Saudi Arabia does not want to alienate Russia because it considers Moscow as a potential arms supplier, and it no longer wants to be viewed by the US (as former President Donald Trump described the Kingdom) as “a cash cow for the US defense industry.” Furthermore, it sees Russia as a major country that can exert pressure on its archenemy Iran.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia understands that it must supply oil to some European countries because it does not want to encourage Europe to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy.

It should be noted that Saudi Arabia already covers a large part of Poland’s energy needs and last January Aramco -the Saudi state oil giant- said it had agreed to buy a 30 per cent stake in Poland’s second-largest refinery and to increase oil supplies to the state’s top energy firm PKN Orlen to 200,000-337,000 barrels per day.

Apparently, the reluctance of Gulf energy producers to substantially increase production to replace Russian gas and oil in European markets made the US and European leaders turn their attention to other possible sources of supply and particularly to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Moreover, both the EU and the US are currently re-examining the feasibility of the building of pipelines that will carry natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe, the EastMed Pipeline, or a pipeline transporting Israeli gas to Turkey and from there to Europe.

Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharar has recently stated that the EU requested the Israeli government to supply it with natural gas. Israel could provide Europe with 10 per cent of the gas it currently buys from Russia.

Last Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid travelled to Athens to meet with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts, Nikos Dendias and Ioannis Kasoulides, in one of their frequent trilateral meetings focusing on energy and security matters taking place every year.

Lapid said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will “change the structure of the European and Middle Eastern energy markets,” adding that there are risks but the crisis also offers “opportunities which we must examine together.”

In July 2021, the Israeli government approved the 6 billion Euro EastMed project which would have created a new gas pipeline from Israel and Cyprus to Europe to lower dependency on Russian fuel.

However, it is doubtful if this pipeline will be built, as Turkey which is the largest gas consumer in the region has strong objections and the United States decided in January to rescind its support, citing economic and environmental reasons. (ANI)

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