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Relevance of Hydrocarbon sector in changing energy scenario

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap] he British Royal Navy was the largest and the most technically advanced naval force in the early half of the 20th century. It was the era of coal and oil has just started flowing in the markets. As coal was more readily available in the British Isles in Cardiff and Wales, most of the Royal Navy was coal fired. However, the advantages of a Navy fuelled by oil were beginning to be seen.

Oil-Powered Ships could carry more fuel, were faster and could cover a larger patrol area. More so, the German Navy was fast catching up, both in quantity and quality. Among the debaters of the coal and oil camp was Winston Churchill, the First Sea Lord of Admiralty and a supporter of Oil. He argued strongly for the Introduction of Oil-powered engines and a move towards an Oil Navy. His detractors argued that there was little to no oil to be found with the British Isles. Among his supporters for the transition, a major concern was that the only source of oil for the Royal Navy was in Persia, separated from the British Fleet Home Bases by a thousand miles. In event of a looming war, it would become a logistical nightmare to supply the ships with oil, safely and securely. Churchill, however, dismissed all these concerns. Ships powered by Coal were being grossly outperformed in Fleet Readiness Exercises. An American Training Fleet powered by oil has just come out on top of a powerful Coal-Fired British Fleet in a training exercise, embarrassing the British Admiralty. The writing on the wall was clear. The future belonged to faster, more nimble ships which could only be possible with oil engines. But how could the mighty British Fleet rely on a single source of oil, that too thousands of miles away. Could the safety and certainty of oil be guaranteed? To this he said, “Safety and certainty in oil lie in variety and variety alone.” Diversification of Energy sources was the only way out of the dilemma. And those words hold true, even to this date.

Today, is Energy a luxury or a necessity?

India, a home to over 1.2 Billion People and counting, is one of the world’s largest economies and arguably the world’s fastest growing economy. Every year, a sizable chunk of the Indian Population is pulled up from the Below Poverty Line and becomes part of the world’s largest Middle Class Population. Incomes are rising, the economy is growing, workers migrate to the cities in search of work, shops open to cater to increasing number of customers, suburbs become the part of the cities and the Indian Juggernaut lumbers along. The Economists and the Financial Markets look towards India as one the drivers of the Global Economies and the undisputed hub of the Global Services Industry. But in the all the light, lays a gaping hole of darkness, something which has the potential to snuff out all the light and put an end to the Indian/global Growth. And that darkness is akin to dilemma that the Royal Navy faced over a century ago. To fuel the temples of Economic Growth, we need Energy and lots and lots of it. To build roads, provide electricity to the ever growing population, to pump clean water for drinking, to move commerce and food stuff, heck we even need energy to create fertilizers and irrigate fields to grow food. Energy has occupied the most important place in our lives. Energy is no longer a luxury but a necessity of Human Life now. A life with energy is impossible to imagine now.

The Dilemma of Energy Supply

While the demand for Energy continues to grow, Governments and Public Utilities struggle to find ways to cope with the supply-demand equation. Also, with the coming of the 21st century and the horrors it is foretold to bring if we do not become caring for the environment, there is a need to come up with cleaner and greener sources of Energy. India, like most other counties in the world, faces the same issues. How to supply a growing Population with the means for a bountiful living balancing it with supplying the adequate means for the economy to grow while having a next to no impact on the environment? The dilemma of the policy makers is palpable. James Schlesinger, who served as the first US energy secretary, once quipped that Americans have only two ways of thinking about energy: “complacency and panic.” We’ll agree with the sentiment and substitute the word “Americans” for “people” because very few people anywhere in the world think much about where their energy comes from? And the gargantuan swings in energy markets over the past couple of years illustrate Dr. Schlesinger’s basic point. Our foremost challenge today is the need to balance energy security, employment and economic growth with the issue of climate change. While it can be possible, but not without first acknowledging that the real problem lies above ground rather than beneath it. Getting the Policy mix right is the surest way to avoid the traps of complacency and panic. So what underpins energy security? What to do to ensure that the Energy always flows? Is there the need for an out of the box thinking? Maybe. But the solution remains the same as were the words of Churchill; only this time it would be “Safety and certainty of Energy Supply lie in variety and variety alone.”

Safety and certainty of Energy Supply lie in variety and variety alone

Reliable and affordable supplies of energy have laid the foundation for the world’s extraordinary economic progress to date. Coal fuelled power plants provide electricity for factories and mills. The patriotic fervor among the coal miners in the United States was very strong as they were right to believe that the coal mined by them made Steel and that if the Steel failed, the entire country would fail. Oil made faster travel and commerce possible. Famines and food panics have been gradually reduced as markets became interconnected and it become possible to buy and sell and move goods fast. Natural Gas has made cooking a delightful experience compared to the soot filed kitchens of the past. However, these bountiful sources were very taken for granted throughout much of the 20th century. But with the coming of the 21st century is that energy security and climate change have become the defining issues. They are most important components in a complex matrix with strategic, economic and environmental dimensions.

We need to look towards the future to find out what that lays ahead. BP’s projections suggest we’ll need around 45% more energy in 2030 than we what we can consume today – and double that by 2050. That’s the rough equivalent of adding today’s biggest energy user, United States nearly twice over to world energy demand, and meeting it will require an annual investment of more than $1 trillion a year, every year till 2050. The question is so how can we deliver on that demand sustainably? Let’s be clear – there are no silver bullets here to take this big bad wolf.

Towards Energy Security

To address it, we must have clarity of thought about where we are, where we want to go and which way to go? There is a need to set out practical pathways which can lead us towards the dreamed destination. And most of all, we need a clear regulatory framework to enable businesses to invest with the confidence in building a lower carbon/ carbon free future. Hydrocarbons have, are and will continue to play the most important role in energy security. Say what the environmentalists and the climate scientists; a future full of energy without hydrocarbon is unimaginable, at least with current available technology and investment base. Despite the entire hullabaloo about renewable, they are unlikely to account for much of the energy basket. Unlike what the proponents of the renewable energy who believe the energy base transition would be as under:

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with renewable contributing a significant higher share year on year. As stated, the share of renewable energy will certainly increase, but we have to be realistic about how much it can actually contribute. All of the world’s wind, solar, wave, tide and geothermal power only accounts for around 1% of total consumption. Add up hydropower and the share goes up another 12%. While hydroelectricity can contribute a bigger share of the energy pie, the application is limited   by massive   population  displacements   and   the   ecological   impact   on   the   local communities. Projects like the Itaipu Dam (Paraguay) and the Three Gorges Dam (PR China) are becoming fewer to plan and execute and several other projects all across the world are struck in various different stages of construction and the Litigation. Governments are funding newer projects in renewable development and research, although taking at a break neck speed, has yet to come up with a game changer solution, forcing corporate to rely on current generation technology for testing and small scale projects. Given the practical challenges of scaling up such technologies, the International Energy Agency doesn’t see them accounting for much more than 5% of consumption in 2030(excluding Hydropower), even with all the aggressive policy support and governmental funding. Nuclear energy and biofuels will also play a part, and by 2030 carbon capture technology could be deployed at scale in Coal Fired power plants. But there will still be a major role for hydrocarbons, primarily Natural Gas. Indeed, the IEA analysis indicates that even in a low carbon scenario predicated on keeping the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to less than 450ppm, hydrocarbons will remain dominant. Hence, Hydrocarbons, more so, Natural Gas are the most reliable fuel for the future.

Relevance of the Hydrocarbon Sector

So we need hydrocarbons and lots and lots of it, that’s clear. The good news is that we have enough reserves of crude oil – and even more of natural gas – and these reserve estimates are rising as we continuously developing newer ways of unlocking both conventional and unconventional resources. Thereby the cornerstone of ensuring the future’s energy security is the creation of a diverse supply – diverse in the forms it can take and diverse in the places it can come from. The hydrocarbon sector must make investments in both low carbon energy business (the projects for Carbon Capture and Sequestration) and the carbon intensive programs (the production from Heavy Oils and Tar Sands) and mate them together. It’s not so much about not emitting the carbon into the system, its more about minimizing the carbon footprint of the energy. Both programs can be a part of a broad and sustainable energy basket mix that embraces oil, gas, coal and renewable, producing and using them all with innovation and efficiency.

However, the building of such a future demands action both from hydrocarbon sector and from Government. The Hydrocarbon Sector can provide the building blocks and tools – but there is a need for them to work within the architecture provided by governments. This appears to be the most logical way in which the current energy security architecture can – and it should – be strengthened.

Challenges Ahead

There is however a set of unique challenges ahead. First, with continuously increasing pressure on the supply side, it’s important to develop energy resources as efficiently as possible. For the Government, this means opening up areas that had previously been closed for exploration and allowing competitive bidding for operations. Offering access permits to a group of potential operators encourages them to come up with the most efficient solutions and often involves partnerships that develop new and innovative combinations of skills, lest they try it going in alone and losing it all. The key to producing unconventional and stranded conventional resources efficiently lies in application of advanced technology. The prime example of this thought school is the US revolution in shale gas over the past decade that has been made possible thanks to new drilling and fracturing technology. This is a real game-changer when it comes to energy security.

The second area in which policy is critical is in addressing climate change. The hydrocarbon sector along with the government can play a major role, arguably via creating a price for carbon trading through conventional market mechanisms. Needless to stress upon but only an open competition will encourage the most efficient ways of cutting emissions. The Hydrocarbon sector must factor a carbon cost into both, their investment choices and their engineering design of new projects. This is only way of ensuring that their investments are competitive not only in today’s world, but also in a future where carbon has a more robust price.

The question of Climate Change?

There are a lot of detractors and proponents of the role of hydrocarbons in the climate change but the fact remains that the world is going to use a lot more energy in the coming decades and there is a need to take urgent action to mitigate the effects of such an increase. All across the globe, millions of people are leaving poverty behind and enjoying a much better standard of living. While there are some clear signs that governments around the world are sensitive to this and are beginning to do something about it, the process remains disjointed and sometimes even frustrating for the Hydrocarbon Sector to do something positive in this regard. The key to real progress being made is alignment, rather than simple agreements – moving in the same direction, may or may not necessarily in lock-step. If the government provides a clear, stable and sustainable framework for investment, it will start to flow. But if they don’t, they run the risk that spare capacity will dwindle – and ‘complacency’ will give way to ‘panic.’

The quickest way to ensure a low carbon fuel for the future while ensuring minimum investment and with the existing infrastructure and technology is Natural Gas. Gas offers the greatest potential to achieve the largest CO2 reductions – at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest time duration all this, by using technology that is available today. It’s easily the cleanest burning fossil fuel – around 50 percent cleaner than coal. It’s very efficient, and combined-cycle turbines fuelled by natural gas are both quicker and relatively cheaper to build. More so, a lots of it is available and sometimes, more readily so.

Conclusion

The creation of a low-carbon economy will be far from easy and over-time, will require the whole-scale re-engineering of the global economy. It will demand a very significant investment by industry, which in turn requires a clear regulatory regime. There is a need to ensure that our children and grandchildren are not left with the unknown hazards of climate change and can keep their lights on in the future. If both these challenges can be met, it is only then has the Hydrocarbon Sector played a crucial role in this changing energy scenario.

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“Oil for development” budget, challenges and opportunities

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Iran has recently announced that its next fiscal year’s budget is going to be set with less reliance on oil revenues.

Last week, Head of the Country’s Budget and Planning Organization (BPO) Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said “In the next year’s budget – it starts on March 19, 2020 – oil revenues will be only spent for development projects and acquisition of capital asset, and not even one rial is going to go to government expenditures and other areas.”

At first glance, the idea is very appealing and it seems if the government manages to pull it off, it will be a significant step for Iran in its movement toward an oil-independent economy. However, it seems that cutting oil revenues from the budget and allocating them only to a specific part of the country’s expenditures is not going to be an easy task.

Although, BPO has already suggested various substitute sources of revenue to replace those of oil, some experts believe that the offered alternatives are not practical in the short-term.

So, how successful will the government be in executing this plan? What are the challenges in the way of this program? What are the chances for it to become fully practical next year?

To answer such questions and to have a clearer idea of the notion, let’s take a more detailed look into this [so called] ambitious program. 

The history of “oil for development”

It is not the first time that such a program is being offered in Iran. Removing oil revenues from the budget and allocating it to development projects goes way back in Iran’s modern history.

In 1927, the Iranian government at the time, decided to go through with a plan for removing oil revenues from the budget, so a bill was approved based on which oil incomes were merely allocated to the country’s development projects.

This law was executed until the year 1939 in which the plan was once again overruled due to what was claimed to be “financial difficulties”.

Since then up until recently, Iran has been heavily reliant on its oil revenues for managing the country’s expenses. However, in the past few years, and in the face of the U.S. sanctions, the issue of oil being used as a political weapon, made the Iranian authorities to, once again, think about reducing the country’s reliance on oil revenues.

In the past few years, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has repeatedly emphasized the need for reducing reliance on oil and has tasked the government to find ways to move toward an oil-independent economy.

Now that Iran has once again decided to try the “oil for development” plan, the question is, what can be changed in a program that was aborted 80 years ago to make it more compatible with the country’s current economic needs and conditions.

The substitute sources of income

Shortly after BPO announced its decision for cutting the oil revenues from the next year’s budget, the Head of the organization Mohammad-Baqer Nobakht listed three alternative sources of income to offset oil revenues in the budget planning.

According to the official, elimination of hidden energy subsidies, using government assets to generate revenue and increasing tax incomes would be the main sources of revenues to compensate for the cut oil incomes.

In theory, the mentioned replacements for oil revenues, not only can generate a significant amount of income, but they could, in fact, be huge contributors to the stability of the country’s economy in the long run. 

For instance, considering the energy subsidies, it is obvious that allocating huge amounts of energy and fuel subsidies is not a good strategy to follow.

In 2018, Iran ranked first among the world’s top countries in terms of the number of subsidies which is allocated to energy consumption with $69 billion of subsidies allocated for various types of energy consumption including oil, natural gas, and electricity.

Based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the total amount of allocated subsidies in Iran equals 15 percent of the country’s total GDP.

The budget that is allocated for subsidies every year could be spent in a variety of more purposeful, more fruitful areas. The country’s industry should compete in order to grow, people must learn to use more wisely and to protect the environment.

However, practically speaking, all the above-mentioned alternatives are in fact long term programs that take time to become fully operational. A huge step like eliminating hidden subsidiaries cannot be taken over a one or event two-year period.

The development aspect

One big aspect of the government’s current decision is the “development” part of the equation.

A big chunk of the country’s revenues is going to be spent on this part and so the government is obliged to make sure to choose such “development” projects very wisely.

Deciding to allocate a huge part of the country’s income on a specific sector, makes it more prone to corruption, and therefore, a plan which is aimed to help the country’s economy could become a deteriorating factor in itself if not wisely executed.

The question here is, “Is the government going to spend oil money on all the projects which are labeled as ‘development’ even if they lack the technical, economic and environmental justification?”

So, the government needs to screen development projects meticulously and eliminate the less vital ones and then plan according to the remaining truly-important projects.

Final thoughts

Even if the “oil-free” budget is a notion that seems a little ambitious at the moment, and even if there are great challenges in the way of its realization, but the decision itself is a huge step toward a better future for Iran’s economy. Although realizing this plan seems fairly impossible in the short-term, it surely can be realized with proper planning and consideration in the long term.

Sooner or later Iran has to cut off the ties of reliance on oil incomes and start moving toward a vibrant, dynamic and oil-free economy; a journey of which the first step has been already taken.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Growing preference for SUVs challenges emissions reductions in passenger car market

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Authors: Laura Cozzi and Apostolos Petropoulos*

With major automakers announcing new electric car models at a regular pace, there has been growing interest in recent years about the impact of electric vehicles on the overall car market, as well as global oil demand, carbon emissions, and air pollution.

Carmakers plan more than 350 electric models by 2025, mostly small-to-medium variants. Plans from the top 20 car manufacturers suggest a tenfold increase in annual electric car sales, to 20 million vehicles a year by 2030, from 2 million in 2018. Starting from a low base, less than 0.5% of the total car stock, this growth in electric vehicles means that nearly 7% of the car fleet will be electric by 2030.

Meanwhile, the conventional car market has been showing signs of fatigue, with sales declining in 2018 and 2019, due to slowing economies. Global sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars fell by around 2% to under 87 million in 2018, the first drop since the 2008 recession. Data for 2019 points to a continuation of this trend, led by China, where sales in the first half of the year fell nearly 14%, and India where they declined by 10%.

These trends have created a narrative of an imminent peak in passenger car oil demand, and related CO2 emissions, and the beginning of the end for the “ICE age.” As passenger cars consume nearly one-quarter of global oil demand today, does this signal the approaching erosion of a pillar of global oil consumption?

A more silent structural change may put this conclusion into question: consumers are buying ever larger and less fuel-efficient cars, known as Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs).

This dramatic shift towards bigger and heavier cars has led to a doubling of the share of SUVs over the last decade. As a result, there are now over 200 million SUVs around the world, up from about 35 million in 2010, accounting for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010. Around 40% of annual car sales today are SUVs, compared with less than 20% a decade ago.

This trend is universal. Today, almost half of all cars sold in the United States and one-third of the cars sold in Europe are SUVs. In China, SUVs are considered symbols of wealth and status. In India, sales are currently lower, but consumer preferences are changing as more and more people can afford SUVs. Similarly, in Africa, the rapid pace of urbanisation and economic development means that demand for premium and luxury vehicles is relatively strong.

The impact of its rise on global emissions is nothing short of surprising. The global fleet of SUVs has seen its emissions growing by nearly 0.55 Gt CO2 during the last decade to roughly 0.7 Gt CO2. As a consequence, SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the power sector, but ahead of heavy industry (including iron & steel, cement, aluminium), as well as trucks and aviation.

On average, SUVs consume about a quarter more energy than medium-size cars. As a result, global fuel economy worsened caused in part by the rising SUV demand since the beginning of the decade, even though efficiency improvements in smaller cars saved over 2 million barrels a day, and electric cars displaced less than 100,000 barrels a day.

In fact, SUVs were responsible for all of the 3.3 million barrels a day growth in oil demand from passenger cars between 2010 and 2018, while oil use from other type of cars (excluding SUVs) declined slightly. If consumers’ appetite for SUVs continues to grow at a similar pace seen in the last decade, SUVs would add nearly 2 million barrels a day in global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars.

The upcoming World Energy Outlook will focus on this under-appreciated area in the energy debate today, and examines the possible evolution of the global car market, electrification trends, and consumer preferences and provides insights for policy makers.

While discussions today see significant focus on electric vehicles and fuel economy improvements, the analysis highlights the role of the average size of car fleet. Bigger and heavier cars, like SUVs, are harder to electrify and growth in their rising demand may slow down the development of clean and efficient car fleets. The development of SUV sales given its substantial role in oil demand and CO2 emissions would affect the outlook for passenger cars and the evolution of future oil demand and carbon emissions.

*Apostolos Petropoulos, Energy Modeler.

This commentary is derived from analysis that will be published on 13 November 2019 in the forthcoming World Energy Outlook 2019. IEA

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A Century of Russia’s Weaponization of Energy

Todd Royal

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In 1985 a joint meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev conveyed this enduring sentiment during the height of the Cold War, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” This sentiment began moving both countries, and the world away from Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.); and soon thereafter the Cold War ended. With the rise of Vladimir Putin, and the return of the Russian strongman based on the Stalin-model of leadership, Russia now uses and wields Russian energy assets, as geopolitical pawns (Syrian and Crimean invasions) the way they once terrorized the world with their nuclear arsenal.

Russia will remain a global force – even with an economy over reliant on energy – and Putin being the political force that controls the country. What makes the Russian weaponization of energy a force multiplier is “its vast geography, permanent membership in the UN Security Council, rebuilt military, and immense nuclear forces,” while having the ability to disrupt global prosperity, and sway political ideologies in the United States, Europe, Middle East, Asia, and the entire Artic Circle.

Putin understands that whoever controls energy controls the world – mainly fossil fuels – oil, petroleum, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy to electricity is now added to this dominating mix. Now that Stalin has taken on mythological status under Putin’s tutelage, Joseph Stalin once said“The war (WWII) was decided by engines and octane.”Winston Churchill agreed with Stalin on the critical importance of fuel: “Above all, petrol governed every movement.”

The most devastating war in human history, and one that killed millions of Russians continues driving Putin’s choice to make energy the focal point of their economy, military, and forward-projecting foreign policy. This began the modern, energy-industrial complex that mechanized and industrialized energy as a war-making tool that still affects people-groups, countries, and entire regions of the world.

Russia, then the U.S.S.R. (former Soviet Union), and now current Russia have always thought of energy as a way for their government to dominate their countrymen, traditional spheres of influence (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Central Asia), and a strategic buffer zone against land-based attacks that came from Napoleon and Hitler’s armies that still haunts the Russian psyche.

The timeline of Russia from the 1917, violence-fueled Russian Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power, the rise and death of Stalin in 1953, World War II in-between, the Cold War that began March 5, 1946 in Winston Churchill’s famous speech declaring “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent,” has been powered by energy.

This kicked off the Cold War until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During this epoch in history the Soviets promoted global revolution using their economy and military that ran on fossil fuels and nuclear weaponry. In 1999 Vladimir Putin becomes Prime Minister after Boris Yeltsin resigns office, and the rebirth of the Soviet Union, and weaponization of energy continues until today under Putin’s regime.

What Russia now promotes foremost over all objectives: “undermining the U.S.-led liberal international order and the cohesion of the West.”Russia’s principal adversaries in this geopolitical tug-of-war over energy and influence are the U.S., the European Union (EU), and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). All of these variables are meant to bolster Russia and Putin’s “commercial, military, and energy interests.”

This geopolitical struggle doesn’t take place without abundant, reliable, affordable, scalable, and flexible oil, and natural gas. This is likely why Russia has begun a massive coal exploration and production (E&P) program that has grown exponentially since 2017 according to Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service.

The entire Russian economy is now based on rewarding Putin’s oligarchical cronies, and ensuring Russian energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom can fill the Kremlin’s coffers to annex Crimea and gain a strategic foothold in the Middle East via the Syrian invasion. This economic system is now referred to as “Putinomics.” Using energy resources to fund global chaos, and wars while rewarding his favorite oligarchs and agencies that do the Kremlin’s bidding.

Russia is now in a full-fledged battle with western powers, and its affiliated allies over the fossil fuel industry. While the rest of the world is attempting to incorporate renewable energy to electricity onto its electrical grids, and pouring government monies into building momentum for a carbon-free society, Russia is going the opposite direction.

Moscow’s energy intentions are clear, and have been for over one hundred years. Currently, there Syrian foothold has allowed them to entrench themselves back into the Middle East. This time they aren’t spreading revolutionary communism, instead it is Putin-driven oil and natural gas supplies through pipelines and E&P rights acquired in “Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.”

Russia has a clear pathway to block U.S. liquid natural gas (LNG) into Europe, and a land bridge from the Middle East to Europe almost guarantees Russian natural gas is cheaper, more accessible, and maintains that Europe looks to Russia first for its energy needs. By cementing their role as the “primary gas supplier and expands its influence in the Middle East,” the U.S., EU, and NATO’s military dominance are overtaken by natural gas that Europe desperately needs to power their economies, and heat their homes in brutal, winter months.

To counter Russian energy influence bordering on a monopoly over European energy needs, the current U.S. administration should make exporting natural gas into LNG a top “priority.” Work with European allies in Paris, Berlin, and NATO headquarters to operationally thwart Moscow’s “Middle East energy land bridge.” Global energy security is too important by allowing Russian influence to continue spreading.

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