Commentary by Gene Yaw originally published at RealClearEnergy.com
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody and unhinged campaign to topple a democratic nation once subjugated by the former Soviet Union has resurrected the threat of global conflict from its deep, dark Cold War-era grave.
It’s easy to paint the invasion of Ukraine as the delusions of a narcissistic despot desperate to cement his legacy as the man who muscled Russia’s way back to the top of the world superpower list. In doing so, we ignore the uncomfortable truth: Putin spent years bolstering Russia’s economy with oil and gas exports, knowing full well the West’s race to renewables left them vulnerable and dependent.
As a natural consequence, any imposed sanctions meant to cripple Russia’s energy sector will reverberate across the globe, cutting countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) the deepest.
This is what I, and many others, mean when we say energy independence is a matter of national security. And this is why short-sighted climate policies – like forcing Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and cancelling natural gas and oil infrastructure, the Keystone XL pipeline chief among them – are so very dangerous. People across the world, not just in Ukraine, will die from the leverage Russia holds over global energy exports.
How much control does Russia have, exactly? The EU is the largest importer of natural gas in the world and 53% of their supply came from Russia in 2020 alone. In the United States, about 11% of our crude oil imports came from Russia last year – a smaller, albeit significant chunk that will cause financial pain stateside as the war against Ukraine escalates.
Some analysts believe crude oil prices may reach $150 per barrel this summer, up from roughly $50 just two years ago when American energy policy prioritized independence.
President Trump, love him or hate him, cautioned western Europe about the risks of relying on Russian natural gas. Germany ignored those warnings and closed much of its nuclear and coal generation facilities in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately, Germany now finds itself in a very serious dilemma of failing to recognize the importance of natural gas in its decisions.
Germany isn’t alone in its shortsightedness. Democratic leaders in western nations, acting on behalf of wealthy green energy donors, fail to see the big picture time and time again. It doesn’t matter how many countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement if all of them also allow China to ramp up its emissions over the next decade.
Pollution knows no borders. Renewable energy accounts for less than one third of global energy supply and remains notoriously unreliable. That’s why, in addition to fueling the EU, Russia made a lucrative deal to supply China with 100 million tons of coal.
We can attack Putin’s assets and Russia’s banks all we want, but so long as he’s cornered a sector of the energy market, his imperialist ambitions will not subside.
But all is not lost. The United States can change course. We can ramp up energy production with the same urgency we experienced when manufacturers pivoted to make masks and ventilators at the onset of the pandemic. We can ease Biden-era policies meant to restrict oil and gas production and exports. We can greenlight Keystone and other pipelines. And we can unleash our plentiful gas supply right here in Pennsylvania to help with that mammoth effort.
Pennsylvania, according to the Energy Information Administration, remains number two in natural gas production nationwide and became the largest supplier of electricity in the United States in 2020. In Pennsylvania alone, more than half of households use natural gas to stay warm. Our 49 underground storage sites also remain key to meeting regional demand in winter.
That’s why Gov. Tom Wolf must abandon policies meant to hamstring the industry, like his devotion to RGGI or his alignment with New York on halting infrastructure that could supply New England with cleaner, cheaper Pennsylvania natural gas instead of – you guessed it – Russia’s inferior product.
But Wolf isn’t the only one standing in the way. Our country still bans liquified natural gas (LNG) cargo ships from delivering between domestic ports unless registered in the United States. Of the more than 400 existing LNG carriers, none fly the U.S. flag.
This law, known as the Jones Act, was enacted in 1920 and leaves us entirely dependent on foreign transports to deliver LNG when pipelines aren’t feasible. The same law prevented production facilities in the southern U.S. from delivering to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in 2017.
Think of how much the world has changed in a century, let alone from just a year or two ago. Where is the logic in buying from a hostile nation instead of adopting policies that make it easier to use what we produce ourselves? Is there any recognition of the common good – or are we just nuts?
Russia has now weaponized its natural gas supply and soon it will squeeze ancillary industries like fertilizer manufacturing and ultimately, food production. If you control the food supply, you control the people. It’s a brutal tactic Russian dictators of decades past know all too well.
Our elected officials must set aside their allegiance to green energy lobbyists and turn up gas production so that we can crush Putin’s war machine without setting a single foot on foreign soil. As a nation that prides itself on its staunch defense of liberty, we must not undermine Ukraine’s fight for freedom by bankrolling their aggressor. And natural gas is the most valuable commodity Russia has – for now.
Senator Gene Yaw was elected to represent the 23rd Senatorial District consisting of Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Union counties and a portion of Susquehanna County. He serves as chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.