Pipeline Problems

Ukraine Isn't Europe's Biggest Energy Risk

A meter shows zero level pressure in a Hungarian oil pipeline after Russia stopped shipments in 2007. Laszlo Balogh / Courtesy Reuters

Earlier this month, as Europeans watched Russian soldiers move into Crimea, they shuddered at the thought of the cold months remaining before spring, fearful that the crisis would cause pipeline gas deliveries from Russia -- on which many European countries depend and which mostly transit through Ukraine -- to stop. Foremost in their minds was the 2009 Ukraine gas crisis, when a disagreement between Russia and Ukraine over payments disrupted gas supplies in many European countries and left scores without heat in the middle of winter.

Since then, European countries have made progress securing their gas supplies, including by improving pipeline infrastructure within Europe so that gas can flow more easily among European states. But Europe remains vulnerable. Supply has something to do with that, but even more challenging in the long run are Europe’s unhelpful energy policies, defaulting utilities, and rising coal consumption. They explain why Europe does not consume the additional gas supplies that are already available.

These problems are also why recent proposals from the United States, including the ones put forward by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R–O.) and the former energy adviser Jason Bordoff, to speed up U.S. natural gas exports to Europe to shield the continent from the Ukraine crisis are off base. Before the United States pulls out its gas nozzle, it should consider a few points about Europe’s energy supplies. If it does, it will realize that Europe can do the most to improve its energy security with a few fixes at home.


Observers may speak of a European energy market, but that is an illusion. States on Europe’s periphery, such as Bulgaria, Greece, and Hungary, have much higher energy prices and bigger security challenges than those in the center of Europe, such as Germany. That is because natural gas is not a global commodity with one price but is sold at varying prices in different markets, depending on local supply and demand

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