The Washington Post reported yesterday that someone woke up Slow Joe:
White House officials are growing increasingly alarmed about Europe’s energy crisis and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to force a bleak winter on the continent.
Seeking to punish Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and force a retreat, Western allies have moved to set a cap on what buyers pay for Russian oil. Putin last week said Russia would retaliate by cutting off gas and oil shipments, which could devastate Europe’s economy and hurt the United States by sending global energy prices soaring.
Of course this last sentence really ought to read, “. . .which would devastate Europe’s economy and Democratic Party prospects in the mid-term elections.”
In response to my post over the weekend about how the European energy situation is much more serious than people know, a reader writes in:
One of my kids just returned from the GasTech 2022 conference, ironically held in Milan this year. He is an engineer with a LNG shipping/regas firm. It was nothing like he or the execs from his firm had ever seen. Those same “confident” energy ministry staff from Euro governments are privately in a full fledged panic trying to secure reliable supplies.
One key problem is the lack of port delivery facilities for liquid gas product. Not quick to build—if ya ain’t got one now, won’t for 3-5 years. Normally you solve for this by using FSRU ships that are semi-permanently moored off shore and feed directly to distribution facilities. But there are only 4 dozen of these in the world and most are already contracted to places like Bangladesh. The industry is trying spin up some regas units built on unused exploration platforms—then just tow them into place. The Korean yards that build most of the tankers are fully booked three years out—so hard to rapidly expand the tanker fleets—and a lot of ships are aging out.
In one meeting a Pakistani speaker almost started crying describing the economic dislocation skyrocketing prices are causing. He was in a meeting with the Uniper execs…and as you wrote, they are on the brink of shutting down absent massive cash infusion. Looked like hunted animals. Unless Vlad turns the spigot back on can’t see a happy ending. And my understanding with facilities like aluminum smelters is you can’t flip them “on/off”. Have to run continuously—millions and months to deslag, clean and restart.
The Wall Street Journal confirmed some of this yesterday as well:
Europe’s energy crisis has left few businesses untouched, from steel and aluminum to cars, glass, ceramics, sugar and toilet-paper makers. Some industries, such as the energy-intensive metals sector, are shutting factories that analysts and executives say might never reopen, imperiling thousands of jobs.
Keep in mind that when Europe imposed sanctions on Russia after the outbreak of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, oil and gas were largely exempted because of Europe’s foolish dependence on Russia for oil and gas. It is Putin who is putting the screws to Europe, plainly hoping that imposing serious pain on Europe will cause the EU to drop sanctions or, more importantly, abandon Ukraine and stop supplying weapons. With the war now going badly for Putin, he may well double-down on this strategy.
P.S. Don’t look now, but it appears China may be coming to Russia’s aid:
The first in-person meeting between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin since the start of the Ukraine war is expected to include discussions between the two leaders on how to deepen their economic ties as Russia faces setbacks on the battlefield. The meeting . . . is expected to take place this week at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan. . .
If Europe is serious about ending all imports of Russian crude oil and refined fuels by early next year, the key to success lies in Asia, and more specifically China. . .
The problem is that there is not enough diesel in the global system to make up for the potential shortfall in Europe, which has so far been unable to end its reliance on imports from Russia. . .
If Europe does try to draw more diesel away from Asia it will likely boost the margins further, which ultimately will stoke inflation and economic growth concerns in a region also facing record high thermal coal and liquefied natural gas prices.
Oh goody, let’s swap dependence on Russia for even more dependence on China.