Opinion

Gazprom: A wolf in green clothing

08.02.12 @ 09:20

  1. By Andrew Hillman

BRUSSELS - People like me love conspiracy theories. This is especially true with ones involving Russia. But since the end of last year, it seems that at least one of these theories is coming true.

  • Gazprom HQ in Moscow: Russia sits on one of largest shale gas reserves in the world (Photo: Gazprom.ru)

On 29 November 2011, the Gazprom board of directors made the unusual statement that it was concerned that "the production of shale gas is associated with significant environmental risks, in particular the hazard of surface and underground water contamination with chemicals applied in the production process. This fact already caused the prohibition of shale gas development and production in France."

This was a confirmation of statements made by the company's chairman, Alexander Medvedev in 2010.

Why this board's statement is unusual is that it makes Gazprom the only gas company in the world that is officially against the development of shale gas. Russia sits on one of largest shale gas reserves in the world, with at least 688 different shale formations. Why would the Russian gas export monopoly oppose its only long term development interest?

The use of the environmental argument only adds to its oddness.

Gazprom currently is building a huge pipeline through the Russian old-growth wilderness to feed its Nord Stream pipeline - with much environmental damage along the way - and is seeking to build another under the Black Sea, South Stream.

Europe is currently served by natural gas from Siberia through pipelines that are thousands of kilometres long. Because of a lack of maintenance, these Russian pipelines leak significant amounts of gas each year into the environment.

This would seem to be more worrying for the global environment than shale gas development in the heavily-controlled EU. One would think the Russians would be more interested to first look to the considerable methane emissions from their gas pipeline system and its economic costs and environmental damage before thinking about us poor Europeans.

It looks clear to me that these arguments are not based on real concern for the European environment but instead are in the defence of their traditional gas markets in Europe and Asia, which shale gas threaten. It is politics and economics in 'green' sheep's clothing.

The use of the environment as a cover for other policy issues is not new. The Russians use to accuse Poland and other EU nations os using green propaganda to oppose the building of Nordstream, despite real concerns of damage to the Baltic Sea.

It would be wise of any organisation which opposites shale gas development to be careful when accepting help and funds from non-traditional sources.

The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

As someone who wants an honest dialogue on shale gas, I am not somebody who believes in the hype of shale gas either being the saviour or the destroyer of Europe.

Every development has benefits and costs which must be balanced.

While I think the balance right now is in favour of the development of European shale gas, above all I believe in an open discourse based on facts and principles. Clearly, this is not the case for Gazprom, which only sees the grand political chessboard and its own short term self-interest.

It is a sad day when a conspiracy theory becomes fact. I guess that day has come.

The writer is a political advisor to Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, a Polish centre-right MEP in the European Parliament.

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