Gimme Gas: Europe, Spooked By Russia, Looks to Nigeria for Gas
We wondered recently if Russian gunships in the Caucasus would focus European minds on energy policy. The short answer: yes.
The FT reports today that the European Union has rushed to offer Nigeria financial and political backing for a $21 billion pipeline to carry natural gas from Nigeria through Algeria, for eventual export to the EU. The European gas diplomacy comes the same month Russia's Gazprom signed a memo of understanding with Nigeria's state oil company to do more gas exploration. From the FT:
Andris Piebalgs, the EU energy commissioner, who visited Nigeria last week, admitted that European governments had been slow to back the trans-Saharan pipeline in the past but said the Georgia conflict had focused minds.
"In the EU, particularly after Georgia, there is also a lot of demand from member states to have diversification, real diversification, of supply," Mr Piebalgs told the FT after meeting senior Nigerian energy officials in Abuja, the capital. "EU governments definitely are worried about having too strong a dependency on Russia."
The Nigerian pipeline isn't a silver bullet in any event, the paper notes. It would take until 2016 at least to build, and even then would supply less than 6% of the bloc's natural gas. But having other suppliers—including other African countries—could help reduce Europe's overwhelming dependence on Russian gas, which is increasingly used as a political tool.
The rapid response from Brussels is a sign that Western governments are starting to take the challenge from Russian and Asian oil and gas giants more seriously. Countries on the receiving end of all the attention can play one side against another.
Nigerian officials said that Gazprom offered the kind of technological muscle the country needed for economic growth, while many Western companies sat on the sidelines.
But other Nigerian officials told the FT they won't be fair-weather friends to American and European oil partners: "We're not going to abandon them just because the Russians, or the Chinese or the Koreans, have promised us massive investment."
The fallout from Russia's Caspian incursion will still probably take years to become fully clear. For now, at least, it's done the unthinkable: It got Brussels to start tackling energy issues with a sense of urgency.
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