The European search for an oil haven comes as an energy crisis plagues the globe, despite their incessant scrutiny of gas producing countries.
While Europe should have enough gas for heating and power this winter, the more difficult task will come in 2023 as supplies run out, Qatar’s Energy Minister and QatarEnergy CEO Saad Sherida Al Kaabi warned.
The energy crisis might last until the middle of the decade, according to Al Kaabi, should the Russian invasion of Ukraine persist and gas “does not start flowing back again” from Russia. He also predicted that it would be “much worse next year” if there was a difficult winter, according to reports.
“This coming winter, because of the storage capacity being full, it’s fine,” said Kaabi, adding that “it’s really replenishing the reserves, or the storage, for next year that’s going to be the issue.
“So… next year and the following year, even up to 2025, are going to be the issue.”
As Europe seeks to steer away from its dependence on Russian gas, EU countries are scrambling for a deal securement with the world’s biggest liquified natural gas (LNG) exporter, Qatar.
However, Al Kaabi cautioned that he was unable to imagine a scenario in which “zero Russian gas” flowed to Europe.
“If that’s the case, then I think the problem is going to be huge and for a very long time,” he said. “You just don’t have enough volume to bring [in] to replace that gas for the long term, unless you’re saying ‘I’m going to be building huge nuclear [plants], I’m going to allow coal, I’m going to burn fuel oils.’”
Europe receives 40% of its gas supplies from Moscow and almost a third of the shipments pass through Ukraine.
As Moscow declared plans to keep its main gas pipeline closed off to Europe due to sanctions imposed on the country over its invasion of Ukraine, European authorities, who are already fighting to control the skyrocketing gas prices, are now concerned about winter gas shortages.
EU countries are looking to completely phase out Russian gas.
Beginning in December, the EU will forbid seaborne imports of Russian oil and no longer import coal from Russia. In February 2023, the EU will prohibit the import of any refined oil products from Russia.
All imports of Russian gas and oil are prohibited by the United States, while the United Kingdom will phase out Russian oil by the end of 2022.
As for Germany, plans for the launch of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline from Russia have been put on hold.
The EU and G7 (consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US) are planning to cap the price that nations pay for Russian oil starting in December. They warn importers of Russian crude oil that if they pay more than the cap, western insurers will not cover oil shipments.
The EU has not imposed sanctions on Russian gas due to the bloc’s 40% reliance on its gas.
Bernstein Research estimates that replacing all of the Russian gas entering Europe would require an annual 112 million tonnes of LNG, equivalent to approximately one-third of the current market.
Until new projects are operational, Qatar, which typically ships 70% of its LNG to Asian customers on long-term fixed contracts, said it would only be able to divert 10% to 15% of existing production to Europe.
However, Al Kaabi claimed that until 2025, when QatarEnergy’s Golden Pass joint venture with ExxonMobil is anticipated to add 16 million tonnes of LNG annually to the market, no new, sizeable gas projects would begin producing globally.
Qatar’s multi-billion North Field Expansion project is expected to drastically increase the Gulf nation’s liquefaction capacity by 64% by the year 2027.
As European countries scramble to secure long-term gas deals with the Gulf nation, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Poland and Slovakia have been in talks with Doha about potentially expanding imports.
In order to maintain the security it needs to invest billions of dollars in energy infrastructure, QatarEnergy chooses to sell its gas under long-term contracts.
Qatar’s Asian buyers often accept 15–20-year supply agreements.
According to the Qatari energy minister, the fundamental difficulty governments encounter in figuring the challenges governments face in working out “how best to procure the gas through fixed contracts in an environment where the energy companies are privately owned.”
In addition, he warned that Europe needs to “get off the discussion that gas is not needed for a long time,” in reference to plans for the continent to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
“Because everybody who’s going to invest in the gas sector, they’re looking at 25, 30, 40-year horizons to invest and to get reasonable returns on the investments,” he said. “If governments are not going to be supportive of that, it’s going to be difficult for investors to come in.”
Late September, the Gulf country’s energy minister said demands to ban hydrocarbons “are not only unrealistic but, as recent months have proven, are harmful to a realistic, accelerated transition,” and the sector needs to better assist people in understanding such concept, Reuters reported.
Al Kaabi said that hydrocarbons “are not going to disappear any time in the near future”, suggesting cleaner hydrocarbon forms were therefore necessary for a responsible transition.
“Natural gas is certainly the cleanest fossil fuel, and a much-needed reliable and economic solution to manage intermittency issues, when the sun is not shining, or when the wind is not blowing,” he added.
In an interview with Sky News in late May, Al Kaabi noted that western powers must take responsibility. Years of pushing for an urgent end to fossil fuel production and calling gas producers the “bad guys” had contributed to the current crisis, he argued.
“There was a build up of countries pushing for the [energy] transition in a hard way. [They pushed for] net-zero, moving to renewables, doing away with fossil fuels and demonising the oil and gas companies, [calling them] the bad guys. And [as a result] you don’t have enough investment in the oil and gas sector,” Al Kaabi said, according to Sky News.
Al Kaabi noted that as Qatar increases its output, negotiations with Europe over the sale of its gas has sparked “huge competition” among Asian importers looking to secure long-term supply.
“Because of this pull of Europe wanting additional gas […] the Asian buyers are looking at the same thing and saying ‘hold on, we need to be able to secure our future development needs,’” he said. “We’re talking to almost every customer in Asia where they are very seriously trying to close deals.”