Politics & Policy

Europe Wants U.S. Energy

In the wake of Crimea, green opposition to natural gas makes no sense.

Some of America’s biggest and most influential environmental groups are not only out of touch with reality, they are actively promoting an agenda that would harm the security of the U.S. and its allies in Western Europe.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, political leaders in the U.S. and Europe have agreed on some economic and diplomatic sanctions, but the one obvious and essential action they must take is this: Europe must reduce the amount of natural gas it buys from Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom, which in 2013 provided 30 percent of the natural gas consumed in Europe.

That understanding was made clear on Wednesday during a press conference in Brussels after the EU–U.S. summit meeting. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said that a focus of the summit was on efforts to “reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas.” He added that the “G7 energy ministers will meet on this soon.” His comments were echoed by José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who said that Russia’s invasion of Crimea was “a wakeup call” for Europe to reduce its energy dependence. The comments of the two EU leaders were affirmed by President Barack Obama, who said Europe needs to “further diversify its energy sources.”

And that’s where the anti–natural gas, anti–hydraulic fracturing stance promoted by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and their allies stops being mere sloganeering and becomes something far more insidious. To be sure, the anti-hydrocarbon position of the Big Green groups is nothing new. But the timing of their recent letter to Obama shows that they have no apparent concern for the security of Western Europe or the economic fortunes of the United States.

On March 18, a coalition of 16 environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Center for Biological Diversity as well as the Sierra Club and 350.org, sent an open letter to President Obama, urging him to delay the approval of the Cove Point liquefied-natural-gas-export project in Maryland and to keep “most of our nation’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground.”

In their letter, the groups asserted that the LNG project is not “in America’s best interest or the world’s.” They implored Obama to “shift course on this disastrous push to frack, liquefy, and export this climate-wrecking fossil fuel.” Continuing, they encouraged him to “double down” on his “ongoing efforts to improve energy efficiency and expand wind and solar power nationwide. Let that be your legacy, not a reckless dash to gas.”

Ah, yes, efficiency and renewables, the two-legged stool that the Green/Left has been trying to balance on for decades. It betrays the environmentalists’ refusal to accept reality. In January, the EU and the German government announced separately that they were rolling back aggressive subsidies and mandates for renewable energy because of the staggering costs those efforts have imposed. Spain has racked up some $35 billion in debt thanks to excessive renewable-energy subsidies. In Germany, renewable-energy subsidies are now costing consumers and industry about $32 billion a year. The costs have become so onerous that Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economy and energy minister, recently said his country is risking “dramatic deindustrialization” if it doesn’t reduce energy costs.

The environmentalists like to claim that renewable energy can supplant the world’s need for hydrocarbons, but even a minor bit of math exposes, again, their detachment from reality. Let’s consider the amount of wind-energy capacity that would be required to replace the volume of Russian natural gas that is transported through Ukraine to Europe. Last year, 16 percent of the gas consumed by European countries — 3 trillion cubic feet, or about 75 million tons of oil equivalent — moved through Ukraine. (The balance of the Russian gas that is sold to Europe is transported through other pipelines.)

Let’s compare that amount of energy with what is produced by wind energy. In 2012, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, all of the world’s wind turbines produced energy amounting to 118 million tons of oil equivalent. That amount of energy was produced from 284 gigawatts of wind-energy capacity.

Now recall that the amount of Russian energy we are trying to supplant is 75 million tons of oil equivalent, or about 64 percent of all the energy produced from all of the world’s wind turbines in 2012. If 284 gigawatts of wind capacity can produce 118 million tons of oil equivalent, then we will likely need about 64 percent of that capacity — about 182 gigawatts — to produce the 75 million tons of oil equivalent that we are seeking.

From here, the math is simple. The power density of wind energy is 1 watt per square meter. So to install 182 gigawatts (182 billion watts) of wind-energy capacity, we would need 182 billion square meters of land. That’s 182,000 square kilometers.

Therefore, merely to replace 16 percent of Europe’s natural-gas needs (the volume that Gazprom supplies to Europe through Ukraine) with renewable energy from wind would require a land area more than twice the size of Austria (which covers about 84,000 square kilometers), or an area about the size of Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia combined. The ludicrousness of any effort to cover such a vast area of land with nothing but wind turbines is obvious.

Domestic environmental groups hate natural gas even though it emits about half as much carbon dioxide during combustion as coal does. The U.S. now leads the world in cutting carbon dioxide emissions because relatively low-cost gas is displacing significant quantities of coal in the electricity-generation sector.

Europe will reduce its energy reliance on Russia and reduce its need for coal if it can emulate America’s success in drilling for natural gas in shale deposits. Last October, Purdue University energy economist Wallace Tyner estimated that between 2008 and 2035 the shale revolution will add an average of $473 billion a year to the U.S. economy — or about 3 percent of current GDP. That’s a huge addition to a domestic economy that continues to show lackluster growth.

On Wednesday, Barroso called the development of shale gas in the U.S. “a blessing for the world” because it will allow European countries and others to “be less dependent on energy coming from, let’s say, difficult spots.”

Alas, the environmental extremists don’t see America’s newfound abundance of natural gas as a blessing for the world or anyone else. In their stilted view, the issue of climate change trumps every other concern, including Europe’s security. They want us to curse the development of the energy source that is sparking economic growth here at home and that could, over the long term, help pacify the Russian bear. And of course, they can’t be troubled to consider the landscape-wrecking and wildlife-destroying consequences of their renewable-energy fantasies.

Such is the unfortunate state of modern environmentalism.

Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His fifth book, Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong, will be published May 13.


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