This commentary is by Tom Evslin of Stowe, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It is republished from the Fractals of Change blog.
We in the West unilaterally disarmed when we shut down our nuclear plants, discouraged fracking for oil and gas, stopped building pipeline, and — in Europe, at least — outsourced fossil-fueled energy supply to Russia. Bloated on revenue from oil at over $90 barrel and with Europe literally over an energy barrel, Putin has unleashed real war. BTW, his war is not very good for the environment as well as being a calamity for the Ukrainian people and a clear threat to the rest of us.
This is a war we must win. The only hope for winning without actual fighting – and this may be a vain hope – is to take wartime measures to defang Russia by relieving European dependency on Russia’s gas and oil and crushing the price of those commodities. We can do this but not by pursuing business as usual.
Germany, despite initial reluctance, has ruled out opening the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to their country — at least for now. Biden has said that we will release oil our strategic oil reserve.
Some of the proposed sanctions will make it more difficult for Russia to finance its energy industry. These are good first steps but not nearly enough.
Germany must postpone the closing of its last three nuclear plants; this closing is now scheduled for the end of the year. Anywhere in the west including the US any scheduled nuke shutdowns which can safely be postponed must be postponed. This is a good green move, by the way; the alternative is burning more very dirty coal to keep the grid operating.
Here in the US we must stop our civil war on fossil fuel extraction. Our fossil fuel competes on the world market with fossil fuel from Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia — not with green energy. We can drill responsibly — and must. How much do you think Putin worries about fugitive methane emissions from Russian wells? We crashed the world price for oil just a few years ago (pre-pandemic), brought it down below $40/barrel. We can do that again. Our natural gas coming by tanker is now crucial to keeping Europe from having to choose between freezing and absolute surrender.
By NEXT winter we must make sure we can ship twice as much natural gas to Europe. Yeah, I said NEXT winter. That means we immediately permit and build new pipelines to new LNG terminals from areas of the US – like the Marcellus – which have an over-supply of trapped gas. It also means we build and commission new LNG tankers immediately. The tankers are the warships of the energy war. They can and must be built now.
We now need to finish and open blocked oil pipelines like Keystone XL. Remember, they are an alternative to a hot war and dirty Russian oil; they are not instead of renewables but in addition to them.
Speaking of renewables, we need to rebuild our grid to carry renewable and non-renewable energy around the country and allow us to further electrify and take some of the pressure off fossil fuels. It is possible that some sub-species of chipmunks will have their habitat disturbed. Can you imagine the environmental impact statement for Putin’s war?
Europe can’t leave all the fracking to us. Tapping their own gas fields is now clearly necessary.
Longer term the US and Europe and Japan and Australia must license several standard models of small, safe nuclear plants and actually build them. We should set a moon-shot target of having the first new nuclear plant in decades online in the next two years. We must achieve this target. We also must finally open the nuclear waste facility in Yucca Flats. Two years doesn’t solve the immediate problem of Russian energy blackmail, but it reduces Russian energy prospects and financing available for them to continue to build out their oil and gas industry. Putin has left the Russian economy almost entirely dependent on oil and gas revenue. The Russian people must be shown that that dependency will lead in short order to financial ruin.
What we must not do is trade allowing Iran to build a nuclear weapon for some short-term relief by having Iranian oil as a substitute for Russian supply. We don’t want to put both the energy weapons and nuclear weapons in more aggressive hands. We can and should tell Saudi Arabia to drop out of the oil cartel with Russia and start pumping if they expect any further help with Houthi rebels or Iran itself.
Human energy is required as well to win the energy war. This is an effort like building during WWII. Factories must retool; retraining must happen. It’s time to shake off the Covid fear and lethargy and get back to work. No sitting back and watching it play out on TV and twitter.
We handicapped ourselves with a premature retreat from nuclear energy and fossil fuels. The world is in immediate danger. Just as we did after the disaster of Pearl Harbor, we can emerge from weakness stronger than ever.