Ukraine: It’s All About Fossil Fuels

Whereas before February 2022 Europe had earned a reputation as a world leader in conversion to renewable energy, starting that month this trend was reversed once the flow of cheap gas from Russia became less certain. As Michael Davies-Venn reported in May of 2022, “despite EU and U.S. claims of working with “diverse sources across the globe” to replace Russian gas supply to Europe, the reality is that the U.S. seems to have simply replaced Russia.”

In the first few months following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, just three U.S. liquid natural gas (LNG) exporters—Cheniere, Freeport, and Sempra—saw up to eight-fold increases in their sales to Europe, for a cumulative total of US$6.9 billion. The industry was part of the secretive US-EU Energy Taskforce that met all of the fracked gas industry’s demands within weeks of the invasion, which were to:

  • Resume fossil fuel leasing on US federal lands, and pave the way for more fossil gas pipelines
  • Expedite six specific US LNG export licenses
  • Get regulators to authorize new US fossil gas infrastructure
  • Approve $300 million in public funding to build infrastructure in Europe, including LNG import terminals and fossil gas pipelines.

The crisis in Ukraine has been used as an excuse to rollback other progress in the transition to a clean energy future. Germany, Austria, France, and the Netherlands all moved to reopen coal-fired power plants, while the United Kingdom postponed the decommissioning of some of these plants. Meanwhile Colombia, Australia, and South Africa have stepped up coal production to satisfy new demand emanating from interrupted access to Russian fuels. By May of 2022, European countries had even begun to turn to nuclear facilities, with all the environmental problems that would entail.

In my state of Maryland we banned fracking in 2017 because it harms human health, contaminates drinking water, and releases methane into the air, which has 80 times more global warming potential than carbon. For these same reasons, local activists around the country have been fighting pipelines that carry dangerous fracked gas through our communities, defacing the environment. And for years, environmentalists in my state fought Dominion Energy over its LNG export facility at Cove Point because of its environmental and climate costs, a fight we ultimately lost. We knew that the drive to export LNG came about because our country’s fracking bonanza had produced a surplus of gas and the fossil fuel industry needed to find new markets for it around the globe. We also knew that fracked gas infrastructure would soon be useless assets were our society to transition to clean renewables, as needed to keep our planet from succumbing to irreversible climate disaster. And we realized that the fossil fuel industry has undue influence on these decisions.

But that our government would commit an act of war and climate terrorism by blowing up the Nordstream pipelines goes beyond the pale. We cannot let them get away with it. Aside from the irresponsible escalation of tensions with another nuclear power, the environmental impacts of such actions are tremendous. These do not stay within national boundaries; they affect everyone living on our shared planet. We must demand accountability from our elected officials, and give them no respite until we get it. We must use this moment to not only demand an end to yet another war fought for the fossil fuel industry, we must come to our senses and realize that the biggest obstacle to environmental justice and a future for our planet is the unbridled, short-sighted greed of the dirty industry that has a stranglehold on our democracy. It is time to put people and planet over profit, while we still have a planet to save.

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