West Seeks To End Putin Stranglehold Over Energy

  • Date: 22/04/14
  • Ben Webster, The Times

Britain is to lead an international effort to stop Russia from using its vast natural energy supplies to hold the world to ransom.

As President Putin continues to stoke fears of civil war in Ukraine, energy ministers are preparing to weaken his power by reducing reliance on Russian gas.

Speaking before a summit for G7 countries next month, Ed Davey, the energy secretary, warned that Mr Putin had the west in a stranglehold. Europe gets a quarter of its gas from Russia and half of that passes through Ukraine. Gazprom, Russia’s gas giant, said this month that the price of Ukraine’s gas could rise by 44 per cent. Long-term improvements to energy security would be required to protect Britain even if Russia backed down over Ukraine because Mr Putin might seek to abuse his influence again, Mr Davey said.

“It can’t be right for Russia to hold individual countries to ransom. This is an issue we cannot allow to go off the table,” Mr Davey said.

“There have been at least two, if not three, occasions in recent times when Russia has sought to use its energy superpower status in quite an aggressive manner. If this [the current Ukraine crisis] goes away, who is to say it won’t happen again? Putin wrote his Phd about the possibility of Russia using energy to reassert its political status.”

Ministers from the G7 countries — Britain, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy — are expected to agree to accelerate the development of alternative gas supplies, increase storage, build more electricity interconnectors and even restart mothballed nuclear reactors.

Mr Davey said that Britain did not receive gas from Russia directly, but any disruption to supplies through Ukraine would push up prices here.

He said that Britain should help to protect Germany and other European countries, which depended directly on Russian gas: “As part of the European Union we should show solidarity with them.”

He added: “If, because of Russian action, EU gas prices go up, that affects consumers and businesses here very quickly.”

Mr Davey said that an ambitious package of measures on energy security would be considered at the G7 meeting in Rome on May 5 and 6. “Gas and energy goes around the world, so we are interrelated. Therefore, if we are looking to improve Europe’s energy security we have to think on a global scale. That’s why I very much welcome the G7 because it’s important we have the Americans, Canadians and Japanese around the table to think these issues through,” Mr Davey said.

“It is a real opportunity to show Russia we mean business by improving our energy security and resilience. We have got to look at everything, from more diversified supplies of gas, whether it’s from the US, from shale, or helping other countries who are demanding a lot of gas now but who needn’t. Maybe Japan will turn on some of its reactors.” [...]

Mr Davey confirmed that his department was considering how to help the emerging fracking industry to overcome the problem of landowners refusing permission for drilling under their land. An infrastructure bill expected in the Queen’s Speech in June would change trespass laws and allow shale wells without landowners’ consent.

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