Filter separators at the Gazprom PJSC Slavyanskaya compressor station, the starting point of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, in Ust-Luga, Russia, on Jan. 28, 2021.
Efforts to move away from Russian oil and gas have added momentum to a push for alternative energy sources including nuclear.
The world’s transition away from fossil energy has become a matter of national and global security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to energy industry experts.
But that transition is still a decadeslong project. In the near-term, a quick shift away from Russian energy will mean a need to embrace some dirtier options and a re-evaluation of more contentious alternatives, including nuclear power.
“The moral imperative here is to cut off the supply of Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible for Europe,” said Oleksiy Tatarenko, a Ukrainian policy expert who leads a climate and industry program at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to promote green energy.
Tatarenko, who has family members still living in Ukraine, said the energy consequences of Russia’s invasion have been swift. The United States plans to provide Europe with more liquified natural gas (LNG), which is more carbon intensive than piped gas. Countries like Germany, which pulled out of a huge pipeline project with Russia, are building more terminals to receive it.
“What probably came as a surprise for Russia is how decisive and united Europe has become in its resolve to walk away from that dependency,” Tatarenko said of Russian gas.
The situation highlights some of the bigger challenges around the world’s shift to green energy, which is not without its own geopolitical wrinkles. Some worry the race to electrify could intensify U.S. and European reliance on China.
“We have complete dependence on China for batteries for electric vehicles,” said Robbie Diamond, the president of Securing America’s Energy Future, a nonprofit group that advocates for green transportation. He added that it was paramount to “ensure the solutions for the long-term problems don’t create a dependence on an authoritarian regime.”
For now, fossil fuels remain the quickest option to replace Russian energy and mitigate its impact on the global energy market. Last week, President Joe Biden resumed leasing federal lands for oil and gas drilling and boosted ethanol-rich fuels, despite pollution concerns. The month before, the administration released oil from the country’s strategic reserve and the president promised to get more tankers filled with liquified natural gas to Europe.
Those measures were balanced by separate federal efforts to maintain or ramp up sources of carbon-free electricity. Late last month, Biden invoked the Defense Production Act in an attempt to stimulate U.S. mining of critical minerals for batteries. On Wednesday, he announced a $6 billion effort to save nuclear plants at risk of closing, saying the country needed their carbon-free power to combat climate change. Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, oppose the measure.
Europe spends roughly 800 million euros a day ($864 million) on Russian oil and gas, according to Carolyn Kissane, a professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Leaders are considering an embargo on Russian oil and gas, The New York Times reported last week.