Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Gas: Italy shifts to Algeria for gas procurement

Eager to divest itself von Russian dependance on natural gas, Italy has switched in a precipitous move to Algeria as a supplier just days after the russian invasion into Ukraine. Italy and especially its energy giant ENI have deep and decade-old ties to Algeria. Even major investements by ENI and acquisitions of BP shares on oil fields are under discussion, Le Monde


Algeria is showing a diplomatic upturn with Italy which takes on a particular meaning as Europe is prospecting for alternatives to Russian gas, war in Ukraine obliges. The recent ballets of visits by Italian officials to Algiers, where the red carpet is rolled out at the energy giant Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI) – already historically well treated – testify to a most cordial atmosphere. Italy had become, in recent years, increasingly dependent on Russian energy supplies (40% of its gas imports, or about 30 billion cubic meters [m3]). It is now more than ever eyeing Algerian gas, while it is imperative for it to diversify its purchases abroad, particularly in the Mediterranean.


The overall economic relationship between the two countries has certainly always been healthy. Italy is Algeria's third supplier (behind China and France) and its first customer (ahead of France and Spain). It is also the first foreign investor, a status due to the weight that ENI represents on Algerian soil. History is a big part of it. The tutelary figure of the historic leader of the company, Enrico Mattei (1906-1962), a Christian Democrat politician who was a great promoter of independent Algeria (who died in 1962 after a mysterious plane crash), has always acted bridge between the two countries.


“ENI is a company considered to be a friend of Algeria, a friend of the Algerian revolution at the time, notes Akram Kharief, Algerian security expert and founder of the Menadefense site. It is very difficult to compete with her. In recent weeks, the glorification in the Algerian press of this memory has reached unprecedented levels. "The esteem for Italy is felt among the people of the people", could we read, on March 30, in an editorial of the official daily El Moudjahid.

The staging, in Algiers, of friendship with Italy does not date from the war in Ukraine. The distinguished welcome reserved in the Algerian capital for the Italian President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, during a visit in November 2021, had already sent a first message in the midst of the crisis between Algiers and Paris. The recent Algerian-Spanish turbulence on the Western Sahara issue – following concessions made by Madrid to Rabat – has added to the ambient Italophilia in Algeria. The remarks of the boss of the Algerian public company Sonatrach, Toufik Hakkar, on April 1, evoking the possibility of "recalculating" the price of gas sold to the Spaniards, announce a probable changeover in the long term of part of the supplies from Spain to Italy.


This is fitting, at a time of Rome's strategic shift vis-à-vis Russian gas dictated by urgency. As usual, Italian diplomacy negotiated it in a few hours, with a mixture of agility and pragmatism. Monday, February 28, barely four days after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, was in Algiers, accompanied in particular by the managing director of the energy giant ENI, Claudio Descalzi, to to assess the possibility of increasing gas imports. In energy matters, Italian diplomacy and ENI are used to moving forward together.


Exploitation of new deposits

In the Algerian case, the calculation is simple. Algeria is the country's second largest supplier (21 billion m³), ​​and the Transmed gas pipeline transporting gas to Sicily – also called the Enrico Mattei gas pipeline – is not operating at full capacity (its capacity is 30 billion m³ per year) . What hope, in the short and medium term, additional deliveries.


The Italian minister's trip to Algiers was only the start of a tour centered on energy issues, which took the head of Italian diplomacy, in March, to Africa, the Arabo-Persian Gulf and Azerbaijan. But Algeria is considered, within Italian diplomacy, with particular attention.


So Claudio Descalzi was back in Algeria on April 3 to meet once again the CEO of the Algerian public energy giant, Sonatrach, ENI's historic partner, to discuss the increases in deliveries in the short term and, at a further afield, the exploitation of new deposits. In particular, it is a question of “accelerating” the implementation of joint projects in the region of Berkine Sud, on the border with Tunisia. According to the Algerian press, ENI is also negotiating the acquisition of assets from British Petroleum (BP) in two major gas projects in In Saleh (Centre) and In Amenas (East). According to unconfirmed information, Sonatrach is also discussing the acquisition of ENI assets in Russia.

Be that as it may, the prospect for Algeria to deliver significant quantities of gas to Italy is long term. In the immediate term, its production and transport potential is limited. "Algeria's ability to offset Russian gas for Europeans is questionable," says Olivier Appert, energy and climate center adviser at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI). Faced with the aging of its infrastructure and the flight of its domestic consumption, Algeria has in fact suffered from a continuous decline in its gas exports, which have fallen from 64 billion m3 in 2005 to 41 billion in 2020. substantial investments to reverse the curve. ENI and the Italians are in the running.

Monday, March 28, 2022

US: four russian hackers indicted

Four russian hackers with links to russian intelligence service FSB are indicted for the failed attempts to infiltrate energy companies, SPON:


The US government on Thursday published its indictments against four Russian citizens, whom it accuses of having hacked numerous energy companies around the world on behalf of the secret service FSB and the Ministry of Defense.


The charges relate to cases that date back a while. In the US, there are sealed, ready-made indictments that can be made public at any time. In this case, they are from June and August of the previous year. Now the US authorities thought the time had come to make them public.


These are two separate charges, but they have one thing in common: the hacking activities they describe are sophisticated and have been carried out over a long period of time. They are not aimed at short-term effects, but consist of targeted and well-prepared attacks in which malware is intended to be smuggled into the systems of companies in the critical infrastructure - in order to manipulate their operation on a »Day X« chosen by the attacker or even completely shut it down sabotage.


It is this type of cyber attack that is of greatest concern to security agencies around the world. An infiltrated energy infrastructure, which in extreme cases could be switched off by malicious actors, is considered a nightmare scenario.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Europe: Anti-fracking NGO's received russian money

Investigations by different media suggest that european environmental NGO's opposed to fracking received money injections from russian sources, WELT:


The interests of western climate protectionists and the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin coincide, albeit for very different reasons: slowing down the promotion of fossil fuels in western countries is their common goal. For the activists, this is a stage on the way to a CO₂-free industrial society, for Putin, whose country benefits enormously from the international oil and gas business, it is an important trump card.


For years there have been indications that Moscow is supporting activists in the US and Europe in their fight against fossil fuels in order to be able to sell Russian gas and oil better. In the mid-2000s, the Kremlin decided to fill what it called a “value vacuum”: using so-called “soft power” to place its own views and interests in other countries. According to various sources, Russia also financed non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Europe and the USA in order to push through its agenda.

Many NGOs enjoy special rights in the West: the EU and the United Nations grant environmental organizations extensive legal standing and information rights. Germany grants many organizations the tax-privileged status of "non-profit". As a rule, the NGOs do not have to disclose where they get their money from.


Researchers who analyzed NGO funding on behalf of the European Parliament in 2016 had to admit their failure: "The analysis reveals a complex web of intertwined NGOs, linked by the membership of numerous overlapping networks that pursue many different purposes," she said Conclusion. “It is often difficult to identify which organization in a network is engaged in which activities, or how grants flow between them in relation to those activities.”

There is an "obvious gap between NGOs' declared commitment to accountability and transparency and actual practice," the researchers concluded. Entries in the transparency register of the EU would mostly be avoided. It often remains unclear what interests the funders of the associations really have.


Anyone who demands insight into the funding of NGOs is therefore dependent on key witnesses. The Russian government has transferred 82 million euros to European climate protection associations whose aim is to prevent natural gas production in Europe, an informant told scientists at the Martens Center for European Studies.

Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reported back in 2014 that Russia had supported environmental organizations "in order to maintain European dependence on Russian gas". "What are they smoking at NATO headquarters to spread such accusations?" Greenpeace countered the allegations. Due to the lack of transparency of the money flows described, it is not possible to make a conclusive, independent assessment of whether they are correct or not.


At least NATO stuck to their description. "We share the concern of some allies that Russia may seek to impede potential shale gas exploration projects in Europe in order to maintain Europe's dependence on Russian gas," a NATO official told Foreign Policy. Experts have puzzled over the "sudden" emergence of well-organized anti-fracking environmental groups in Eastern Europe, where Russia has been selling its energy but previously had no public concerns about natural gas production, the magazine wrote.


Fracking, which involves breaking up rock in the ground with a liquid to produce gas, has gotten a bad rap, although it's been tried and tested for decades with few problems now. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had also advocated fracking, but reported unusual resistance. In a private speech in 2016, made public by Wikileaks, she lamented: "We were dealing with fake environmental groups, and I'm a big environmentalist, but they were funded by the Russians."

American security expert Fiona Hill, former director for Europe and Russia on the Trump administration's National Security Council, reported on a conversation with Putin in November 2011 in which he made it clear to experts and journalists that he saw fracking in the US as a "major threat of Russian interests”. "We were struck by how much emphasis he put on the subject," Hill said.


American media reported on documents that were supposed to show that energy managers from Russian companies had transferred millions to American environmental organizations - which they, however, rejected. Representatives of American energy companies also accused the Kremlin of covert financing of climate protection groups. "Russia is funding the anti-fracking movement in the US," the head of Continental Resources claimed.


Climate and environmental protection organizations distributed misleading films of places where fracking is being done: Drinking water from the tap was burning, toxic gases and chemicals were seeping out of the ground, and entire regions were contaminated. Mass media picked up on the scenarios, particularly aggressively by the Russian channel “Russia Today”.


He labeled fracking companies as child molesters, falsely claiming natural gas extraction would cause cancer in children. A US National Security Agency report saw Putin's people behind the reports, which "probably reflected the Russian government's concerns about US natural gas production and potential challenges to Gazprom's profitability." "We have seen Gazprom funding from environmental NGOs," agrees Dominique Reynié of the Fondation pour L'innovation politique, a French research institute.

After Germany's decision to phase out nuclear energy, Gazprom celebrated "building new, modern gas-fired power plants in Germany". However, the expansion of fracking in the USA worried the Russian competition: the Americans had achieved a decisive turnaround by intensifying natural gas production by fracking in their own country - with positive consequences for the climate. The USA has been able to reduce its CO₂ emissions more than almost any other country in the past 15 years because it has replaced coal with cracked natural gas, which releases much less CO₂.


Europe also has immense shale gas resources. The EU Commission states that gas contained in shale rock using fracking "can contribute to the security of supply of the EU and its competitiveness". In the 2000s, the big energy companies in Europe were ready to develop domestic natural gas.

But the resources remained in the ground, the pressure from climate activists on companies and governments led to investors turning away, the investment bank Goldman Sachs determined. The Financial Times and recently the New York Times came to the same conclusion.


Exploration of new gas fields in Europe collapsed, including in Great Britain, which has particularly rich shale gas resources. Not only NGOs, but also scientific institutes cheered the trend. For example, the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change of the London School of Economics recently called for the end of all domestic oil and gas exploration.

The market is now "fixated on climate change and the dwindling appetite for fossil fuels," wrote financial news agency Bloomberg. Share prices of companies that said they would expand their production of gas and oil came under pressure; Apparently, investors feared damage to their image. In the Netherlands, a court ordered the energy company Shell to reduce its CO₂ emissions, which further slowed exploration efforts.


The great opposition to natural gas production in Europe made gas from Russia attractive. Europe has radically reduced its production of conventional natural gas: 15 years ago it produced more gas than Russia exported, now Russia exports three times more natural gas than Europe produces. From 2015 to 2019 alone, Russia was able to increase its natural gas imports to Europe by a third. The continent now covers around 40 percent of its needs with Russian natural gas.

The market is now "fixated on climate change and the dwindling appetite for fossil fuels," wrote financial news agency Bloomberg. Share prices of companies that said they would expand their production of gas and oil came under pressure; Apparently, investors feared damage to their image. In the Netherlands, a court ordered the energy company Shell to reduce its CO₂ emissions, which further slowed exploration efforts.

The great opposition to natural gas production in Europe made gas from Russia attractive. Europe has radically reduced its production of conventional natural gas: 15 years ago it produced more gas than Russia exported, now Russia exports three times more natural gas than Europe produces. From 2015 to 2019 alone, Russia was able to increase its natural gas imports to Europe by a third. The continent now covers around 40 percent of its needs with Russian natural gas.

In recent years, Germany has relied particularly consistently on Russian energy. It phased out nuclear power, but did not allow terminals for gas shipments by ship from the US, instead planning dozens of new gas-fired power plants. The intended main supplier: Russia.


When former US President Donald Trump declared in 2018 that Germany had become dependent on Russia for its energy supply, German diplomats laughed at him. At the latest, however, the Russian invasion of Ukraine revealed Germany's dependency relentlessly. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said Germany was dependent on Russian gas. If no more gas came from Russia, there would be a risk of “damage to society as much as possible,” said Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Green Party).

In the USA, too, the new government of President Joe Biden has meanwhile made a change. On his first day in office, Biden stopped the Keystone XL pipeline, which was supposed to transport oil from Canada 3,500 kilometers to the United States, after protests by activists. After the import stop for Russian oil, the President now has to put up with the accusation of endangering the supply security of the USA.

The result of the fight against natural gas production in Europe and the USA is sobering, it has not served climate protection. Natural gas is still burned, it only comes from Russia. Nuclear power plants were shut down in favor of natural gas. The war in Ukraine also makes natural gas more expensive, so that the demand for coal increases, which causes CO₂ emissions to rise more sharply. In Germany, the green economics minister is considering letting coal-fired power plants run longer due to a lack of alternatives to Russian gas.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on the other hand, is now considering starting fracking in his country. Russia is no longer a reliable source, it is important to ensure the energy supply. The climate protection group Extinction Rebellion has announced that it will soon occupy oil refineries in Great Britain. "Fossil energies must be stopped once and for all," declared the activists. "Now is the time, this is the moment".

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

France: Nuclear Safety Authority stops construction on ITER fusion reactor site

 Le Monde:


On the pharaonic construction site of the prototype of the ITER nuclear fusion reactor at the Cadarache site (Bouches-du-Rhône), it is not just the workers who are busy. The engineers had to change their priorities to respond quickly to the long list of requests from the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), so that the assembly of this unique machine in the world continues on schedule.


ASN's requests, in the form of a letter addressed by its chairman to the director general of the international organization ITER, were revealed on 21 February by the news site New Energy Times, which is highly critical of the energy of merger. The missive is not good news. It indicates that, as it stands, the assembly of the reactor cannot begin, in particular the key and irreversible stage of welding the first two elements together, out of nine, constituting the vacuum chamber 19.4 meters in diameter and 11.4 meters high, in which the fusion reactions must take place.

Europe: members of the Bloc sound ways to end dependency from russian gas

 The measures are planned to be effective by the end of the year, WELT:


The pressure on the EU states to impose an embargo on Russian energy supplies is increasing. The heads of state and government meeting in Brussels on Thursday will also argue about this issue again. It is very unlikely that they will agree on a gas embargo this week. But the pressure will remain.


The European Commission, the EU's powerful administration, is therefore already preparing for a possible supply freeze for oil and gas from Russia – even in the event that Russia stops supplies of its own accord.

Russia accepts payment for gas supply only in rubles

 WELT:


In the future, customers in Germany and other EU countries will have to pay in rubles for gas deliveries from Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday instructed the government to stop accepting payments in dollars or euros. Deliveries would continue to be fully guaranteed, the Kremlin chief assured in a government video conference that was broadcast on state television.


The "unfriendly states" blacklisted by Russia are affected. This includes Germany and all other EU countries, but also the USA, Canada and Great Britain.

The announcement promptly strengthened the Russian currency, which is under massive pressure. The move could therefore also aim to support the ruble exchange rate. Gas companies would first have to buy rubles on the foreign exchange market.


The central bank and the Russian government now have a week to determine the modalities for switching from foreign exchange to ruble payments, Putin said. The West itself has devalued its currencies by freezing Russian assets abroad.


"Escalation of the Economic War"

"This is an escalation of the economic war," Jens Südekum, a member of the scientific advisory board of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, told the Reuters news agency. "Not many expected this broadside."


For Südekum, this represents a clear breach of contract. "There are long-term contracts for gas supplies that are denominated in dollars," said the professor at the Institute for Competition Economics at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. "If Putin now declares that he only accepts rubles, he is breaking these contracts." The West will now have to react in some way. "An embargo on energy imports from Russia has now become more likely."

If the West followed Russia's request, it would have to circumvent its own sanctions over the war against Ukraine and take rubles from the Russian central bank. "But it was actually sanctioned," said Südekum. "That's why you can't actually do that."


As a reaction to the sanctions imposed by the West, the Russian government had already decided at the beginning of the month that its own financial obligations to "unfriendly states" would only be settled in rubles. These include Ukraine, Switzerland and Japan.

Germany: chairman of industry association warns: gas network ill-equipped for LNG flows

 The chairman of Federation of German Industries (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie) issues a warning about a complete embargo on oil and gas from Russia. This could, according to his statement, generate a severe recession in Germany and Europe. Furthermore the european gas network is not ready for transporting LNG through Europe, SPON:


Forgoing imports of Russian gas and oil in the short term would cause massive damage to European industrial companies, according to the Federation of German Industries (BDI). "The EU is not prepared for a short-term, comprehensive energy embargo," BDI President Siegfried Russwurm told SPIEGEL. “In doing so, it would jeopardize its unity and ability to act economically and politically.” If there were no energy supplies, production stops threatened with unforeseeable consequences for supply chains and employment.

A boycott of Russian gas supplies would threaten the entire EU with a "structural test," Russwurm continued. Because the European gas network has not yet been designed for gas flows from West to East. "It is unclear whether, if Russian gas supplies are stopped, liquefied gas that ends up in the Netherlands or Belgium will find its way to the Czech Republic or Slovakia," said Russwurm. A gas embargo would cause disruption to production, loss of employment and, in some cases, massive damage to production facilities. A number of other business associations had already warned of this.

A boycott of Russian gas supplies would threaten the entire EU with a "structural test," Russwurm continued. Because the European gas network has not yet been designed for gas flows from West to East. "It is unclear whether, if Russian gas supplies are stopped, liquefied gas that ends up in the Netherlands or Belgium will find its way to the Czech Republic or Slovakia," said Russwurm. A gas embargo would cause disruption to production, loss of employment and, in some cases, massive damage to production facilities. A number of other business associations had already warned of this.

"We support the sanctions imposed on Russia by the western allies," said BDI President Russwurm. »We are aware that further harsh and unequivocal reactions may have to follow.«