Steve Horn reports: In a long-awaited moment in a hotly contested zone currently occupied by the Russian military, Ukraine’s citizens living in the peninsula of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.
Responding to the referendum, President Barack Obama and numerous U.S. officials rejected the results out of hand and the Obama Administration has confirmed he will authorize economic sanctions against high-ranking Russian officials.
“As I told President Putin yesterday, the referendum in Crimea was a clear violation of Ukrainian constitutions and international law and it will not be recognized by the international community,” Obama said in a press briefing. “Today I am announcing a series of measures that will continue to increase the cost on Russia and those responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.”
But even before the vote and issuing of sanctions, numerous key U.S. officials hyped the need to expedite U.S. oil and gas exports to fend off Europe’s reliance on importing Russia’s gas bounty. In short, gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is increasingly seen as a “geopolitical tool” for U.S. power-brokers, as The New York Times explained.
Perhaps responding to the repeated calls to use gas as a “diplomatic tool,” the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced it will sell 5 million barrels of oil from the seldom-tapped Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Both the White House and DOE deny the decision had anything to do with the situation in Ukraine.
Yet even as some say we are witnessing the beginning of a “new cold war,” few have discussed the ties binding major U.S. oil and gas companies with Russian state oil and gas companies.
The situation in Ukraine is a simple one at face value, at least from an energy perspective.
“Control of resources and dependence on other countries is a central theme connecting the longstanding tension between Russia and Ukraine and potential actions taken by the rest of the world as the crisis escalates,” ThinkProgress explained in a recent article. “Ukraine is overwhelmingly dependent on Russia for natural gas, relying on its neighbor for 60 to 70 percent of its natural gas needs.”
At the same time, Europe also largely depends on Ukraine as a key thoroughfare for imports of Russian gas via pipelines.
“The country is crossed by a network of Soviet-era pipelines that carry Russian natural gas to many European Union member states and beyond; more than a quarter of the EU’s total gas needs were met by Russian gas, and some 80% of it came via Ukrainian pipelines,” explained The Guardian.
Given the circumstances, weaning EU countries off Russian gas seems a no-brainer at face value. Which is why it’s important to use the brain and look beneath the surface.
The U.S. and Russian oil and gas industries can best be described as “frenemies.” Case in point: the tight-knit relationship between U.S. multinational petrochemical giant ExxonMobil and Russian state-owned multinational petrochemical giant Rosneft. [Continue reading…]