Energy superpower

Energy superpower

The term energy superpower does not have a clear definition.[1] It has come to be used to refer to a nation that supplies large amounts of energy resources (crude oil, natural gas, coal, uranium, etc.) to a significant number of other states, and which therefore has the potential to influence world markets to gain a political or economic advantage. This might be exercised, for example, by significantly influencing the price on global markets, or by withholding supplies.[2][3] The status of "energy superpower" should not be confused with that of "superpower", as the nature of an energy superpower is defined very differently due to the non-military nature of an energy superpower's power base.[citation needed]

Energy superpowers project greater power than would be otherwise possible due to their lock on the exportable energy markets, and are becoming increasingly valuable to the global economy. In the global commodities' boom of recent years many of these states have benefited massively from increased production and prices.[citation needed]


Energy superpower of the world

Russian natural gas as a % of domestic consumption.

Russia has the largest known natural gas reserves of any state in the world, along with the second largest coal reserves, and the eighth largest oil reserves.[4] Since 2009, Russia has been the world's largest oil producer after overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world's number one.[5] It is also the world's biggest natural gas producer, with 22.3% of global natural gas production, and also the biggest exporter — with 24.0% of global natural gas export.[6] In recent years Russia has identified the gas sector as being of key strategic importance. Many private oil and natural gas companies, most notably Yukos and Sibneft, have been consolidated under the control of the state-controlled Rosneft and Gazprom organisations respectively.

Gazprom has control over all gas pipelines leading out of Central Asia, a region rich in the resource. Russia has used such gas, primarily that from Turkmenistan, on occasions where it has found itself unable to meet all delivery obligations from its own domestic production plants. Such circumstances in 2000 led to Gazprom allowing Turkmenistan to use its pipelines to supply gas to the highly-subsidised, low price Russian domestic market - leaving Gazprom free to fulfil its obligations towards European customers.[7] Gazprom sells 33% of its gas to Europe, accounting for nearly 70% of the company's revenue. The remaining 30% is sold for domestic Russian consumption at highly subsidised prices.[citation needed]

As of 2006, Russia supplies over 25% of Europe's oil and over 40% of its gas. Its energy superpower status has recently become a hot topic in the European Union.[8] Russia's overwhelmingly large reserves of natural gas have helped give it the title without much debate.[9][10] Still, Russia's status as an energy superpower has been called into question by some. As Vladimir Milov, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says :

The “energy superpower" concept is an illusion with no basis in reality. Perhaps most dangerously, it doesn’t recognize the mutual dependence between Russia and energy consumers. Because of political conflicts and declining production, future supply disruptions to Europe are likely. As a result, there will come a day when European gas companies demand elimination of the take-or-pay conditions in their Russian contracts. This will threaten Gazprom’s ability to borrow. Putin’s attempt to use energy to increase Russian influence could backfire in the long run.[11]

Russia has recently been accused by the West of using its natural resources as a policy tool to be wielded against states like Georgia, the Ukraine, and other countries which it feels "threatened" by.[12] At the beginning of 2006, Russia greatly increased the price of gas for Ukraine, following the country's Orange Revolution.[citation needed] It later doubled natural gas prices to Georgia, following an international incident. Critics speculated that it was an attempt to undermine the Georgian leadership's defiance of Moscow.[citation needed]

In turn, Russia has accused the West of applying double-standards relating to market principles, pointing out that it has been supplying gas to the states in question (ruled by regimes Moscow considers "unfriendly") at prices that were significantly below world market levels, and in some cases remain so even after the increases.[citation needed] Russia argues that it is not obligated to effectively subsidise the economies of post-Soviet states by offering them resources at below-market prices. Russia has greatly increased the price of gas for Armenia and Belarus, which, unlike Georgia and Ukraine, have been closely allied with Moscow and form a loose union state with Russia.[citation needed]

Despite Russia's vast potential, there had been concerns voiced by TNK-BP's Viktor Vekselberg that it would run into grave difficulties in 2007,[13] citing that Russia had not opened up any new gas fields since the fall of the Soviet Union, and those which were currently in operation were rapidly depleting. However, this opinion comes in direct contradiction to known facts, as Russia was not reported to have run into gas shortages during 2007. In October 2001 Gazprom began production at the Zapolyarnoye field in western Siberia measured at 3.2 trillion cubic meters. This puts Zapolyarnoye field in the top 10 largest fields in the world.[14][15]

Despite this fact, some continue to argue that inefficient plant and aging infrastructure could force Russia to import additional gas from Central Asia.[16] Such a scenario is not inevitable, as Gazprom has access to vast amounts of gas, and according to Gazprom's Alexey Miller intends to singlehandedly explore the Shtokman Field, one of the world's largest natural gas fields.[17]

It is noteworthy that Russian gas imports present a lucrative opportunity for the country. In 2008 Russia planned to import most of its gas from Central Asian republics for a price that ranged between $100 and $150 per 1000 cubic metre. It re-sells most of this gas to Europe for a price that tops $250 per 1000 cubic metres.[citation needed]

Potential energy superpowers

In addition to the recognized powers, certain states have large or even enormous energy reserves that have not yet been exploited significantly, and which therefore have the potential to become the energy superpowers in the future.

According to Manik Talwani, a geophysicist at Rice University, there are two countries that are most likely to attain the status of Oil superpower: Venezuela and Canada.[18] Citing their enormous potential reserves (1.2 trillion potential barrels for Venezuela and 1.75 trillion for Canada's oil sands), Dr. Talwani believes that they have the reserves to become energy superpowers in the next few decades as oil production declines elsewhere. However, as Dr. Talwani notes, both need 100 billion dollars or more to increase their production levels up to those of true energy superpowers.

Threats to energy superpowers

Recently a new strategy has emerged from al-Qaeda when it comes to fighting the United States. Rather than only targeting the U.S. interests directly in an attempt to cripple it, al-Qaeda now believes that cutting off the supply of energy to the U.S. should be a high priority.[19] In particular, several powerful energy producing states like Saudi Arabia & Canada have had their energy industries listed as targets in al-Qaeda's effort to bleed the U.S. dry.[citation needed] In an apparent attempt to carry out this strategy, several masked men attempted to enter and destroy a section of the Saudi Abqaiq oil refinery.[citation needed] As of yet no attempt to attack energy industry infrastructure has succeeded by a known terrorist group, although Nigeria faces disruption of its energy industry by local rebel forces.[citation needed]

Says Ian MacLeod of the CanWest News Service, "A major supply disruption would send energy prices soaring. Had the Abqaiq attack been successful -- guards fired on cars driven by the bombers, detonating the explosives inside -- some experts say oil prices would have likely broken all records. A catastrophic hit could bring transportation and other parts of the U.S. and world economies to a standstill."[19]

Energy superpowers as a result, while blessed with enormous natural wealth, are beginning to be pegged as targets in the worldwide War on Terrorism. While Saudi facilities are relatively well-protected, there is no consensus as yet as to the seriousness of the threat to other countries nor how well prepared they might be to stop an attack.[citation needed]

Countries where natural gas fields are located

See also


  1. ^ How Russia's energy superpower status can bring super-security and super-stability, Civil G8, 2006
  2. ^ "Russia Won't Act Like an Energy Superpower": Making Promises that Can't Be Kept, Global Events Magazine, September 15, 2006
  3. ^ The Emergence of Russia as Potential Energy Superpower and Implications for U. S. Energy Security, Düsseldorfer Institut fur Aussen-und Sicherheitspolitik, 22.01.2005
  4. ^ Russia Energy Data, Statistics and Analysis - Energy Information Administration (U.S. Govt)
  5. ^ Soldatkin, Vladimir; Nastassia Astrasheuskaya (November 9, 2011). "Saudi Arabia to overtake Russia as top oil producer-IEA". Reuters. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  6. ^ Key World Energy Statistics. 2006 Edition, International Energy Agency 2006
  7. ^ Russia takes heat over energy supply, by Judy Dempsey, International Herald Tribune, 12 February 2006
  8. ^ Beware Russia, energy superpower, by Philip Delves Broughton, The First Post, 16 October 2006
  9. ^ How Sustainable is Russia's Future as an Energy Superpower?, by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 16 March 2006
  10. ^ Russia: The 21st Century's Energy Superpower?, by Fiona Hill, The Brookings Institution, 5 October 2002
  11. ^ How Sustainable is Russia's Future as an Energy Superpower?
  12. ^ Boris Shiryayev, Großmächte auf dem Weg zur neuen Konfrontation?. Das „Great Game“ am Kaspischen Meer: eine Untersuchung der neuen Konfliktlage am Beispiel Kasachstan, Verlag Dr. Kovac: Hamburg 2008, p.111
  13. ^ TNK-BP warned of Russian gas shortage in 2007, by Tarmo Virki,, 24 November 2006
  14. ^ Russia Poised to Dominate European Energy October 11, 2001
  15. ^ Gazprom
  16. ^ What if Russian Gas Runs Low?, by Edward Lucas, The Economist, 23 November 2006
  17. ^ Gas from Shtokman to be piped to Europe, press release by Gazprom, 9 October 2006
  18. ^ Canada: The next oil superpower?, by Manik Talwani. The New York Times 2003
  19. ^ a b "Al-Qaeda calls for attacks on Canadian oil facilities". Ian MacLeod, CanWest News Service. 2007-02-17. Retrieved 2007-04-06. 

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