Shale gas in Europe worries Putin

It might seem counter-intuitive for Russia to be against the advent and development of shale gas in Europe since they themselves have huge quantities of oil and gas bearing shale in SiberiaBut Russia has a very large investment in conventional natural gas production and pipelines (through Gazprom) which must be protected and nurtured. Putin needs to ensure revenues and that exports of conventional natural gas gives them a reasonable return on the investment before moving onto shale gas. About 30% of Europe’s gas comes from Russia. Russia needs Europe to go slow with its own shale gas production and to continue buying Russian gas at reasonably high prices for as long as possible. So much so that Russia has even been supporting anti-fracking groups in Europe. (It is a little ironic when the European anti-fracking alarmists take well disguised Russian funds and play into Russian hands).

The MotleyFoolNow there are accusations that Russia is working hard to keep Europe dependent on its gas supplies. According to Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Russia is doing this by funding anti-fracking groups. That’s something that some of the larger groups deny, but it would be hard to suss out where all of their donations come from in the anti-fracking movement.

There are good reasons for Russia to undertake such a covert operation. For starters, Gazprom would suffer greatly if its European business started to slip away. Second, by keeping Europe hooked on Gazprom gas, Russia maintains a strong bargaining position in world politics.

That, however, just gives the United States more reason to come to the aid of its European allies. Right now, the export of U.S. natural gas is severely limited. With the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the U.S., however, the flow of gas has outstripped demand and pushed U.S. domestic gas prices to record low levels.

While being able to sell natural gas to Europe would be a huge win for Europe politically and U.S. gas drillers financially, it would also be a big win for pipeline operators like Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI  ) . Moving natural gas from where it’s drilled to where it’s used made up roughly 50% of Kinder Morgan’s business last year. The business isn’t about natural gas prices, either; it’s about providing a service. CEO Richard Kinder describes it this way: “We operate like a giant toll road.” So, if natural gas starts going overseas, Kinder Morgan will be involved in the process and make money doing it.

The possibility of surplus shale gas from the US entering Europe and depressing sales of Russian natural gas is a nightmare economic scenario for Vladimir Putin. Even the recent drop in oil prices has seriously unbalanced the Russian budget which needs an oil price of over $100 to be in balance.

Putin takes part in final session of 11th Valdai International Discussion Club meeting

Putin at the 11th Valdai International Discussion Club meeting in Sochi

Putin is clearly worried. Russian President Vladimir Putin took part at the plenary session of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi. He talked up the risks with US shale gas to Europe and talking up the benefits of Russian gas.

TassPutin: Europe’s transition to American shale gas will be suicidal for EU economies

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that transition to shale gas will be suicidal for the EU economies. In his speech at the Valdai discussion club on Friday, Putin said that Russia’s trade turnover with the European Union stood at 260 billion dollars in the first half of 2014 even despite sanctions. He assumed, however, that the trade volumes could fall if Russia stopped all gas and oil supplies to Europe.

“We assume that it can happen at the will of our partners in Europe. But it’s hard to imagine,” Putin said, explaining that alternatives to Russian gas and oil supplies were worse.

It is either the crisis-hit Middle East where the “Islamic State” militants have stepped their operations or deliveries of shale gas and shale oil from the United States.

“We can imagine that /deliveries/ of shale oil and shale gas from the United States are possible. But how much it will cost?” Putin asked.

“This is going to be a direct way to reducing their own competitive ability because it is going to be more expensive than our pipe gas or oil delivered from deposits in Russia,” the Russian president went on to say.

“They are simply going to kill their competitive ability. What kind of a colony Europe should be to agree to this option. But I believe that common sense will prevail. The same is true of Asia,” Putin said in conclusion.

For very many reasons the very best thing that Europe (and Asia) could do would be to expedite the production of their own shale gas. It would bring down energy prices, stimulate growth, increase jobs, increase independence from Russia, increase exports, increase competitiveness against the US and consolidate energy intensive industries which are moving out. But this would have to overcome the opposition of the alarmist, European green parties who have a remarkable facility for being counter-productive.

Opposing the development of shale gas in Europe gives Russia the edge on the geopolitical playing field.

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