As the European Union worries about a possible cut in Russian gas supplies next winter, Brussels is desperate to find a way to solve its energy problem

The European Union and energy supply: an unsolvable conundrum?

PHOTO/REUTERS - Gas pipelines at the Atamanskaya compressor station, Gazprom's Power Of Siberia project facility on the outskirts of the far eastern town of Svobodny

After more than two decades of progress towards European energy dependence under German chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel, the EU now seems to be caught in a vice of its own energy security. For more than two decades, Germany has been at the helm of Europe's best-known gas pipeline, Nord Stream 1, whose ten-day temporary shutdown for 'essential repairs' has caused great concern in Brussels. Through this pipeline, Russia will have provided 155 billion cm (cubic metres) of gas imports to the EU by 2021, or around 45 per cent of the total. Faced with this exacerbated energy dependence, the European Commission expects this amount to fall to 102 billion cubic metres by the end of the year. To meet this challenge, the EU is also looking to diversify its energy suppliers and is now turning to the United States, a partner with which it has signed several contracts to supply the EU with liquefied natural gas (LNG) over the long term (around 40 years). However, this substitution of Russian gas by American gas comes at a cost, in particular transport costs - as it is longer and further away - and the technical costs related to the regasification of American natural gas once it reaches Europe. However, despite all the solutions the EU is considering, one thing is clear: the EU will suffer an energy deficit that can only be made up by Russian imports. This year, the EU will have a deficit of 53 billion cubic metres.

In the face of this constant and worrying fear of a Russian supply disruption at any moment, Central Asia, which has vast gas reserves, has been asked to supply the EU with the hydrocarbons it needs. In the short term, this is impossible, as it takes at least five years to build the gas infrastructure. European energy supplies through the trans-Adriatic pipeline have been a glimmer of hope for the EU, but its current capacity of 10 billion cubic centimetres dashes hopes as it is so small compared to Russian supplies. Moreover, the pipeline's passage through unstable countries such as Turkey - Putin's close ally - or Greece - Turkey's number one enemy - constitute additional uncertainties that do not allow this option to be considered calmly.

AP/MICHAEL SOHN  -   Tuberías de las instalaciones de aterrizaje del gasoducto "Nord Stream 2" en Lubmin, en el norte de Alemania

The resources of Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - could have been the EU's main source of energy, but the government in Tashkent - Uzbekistan's capital - has announced that it will stop exporting gas because it needs its 53 billion metre annual production for its growing domestic market. Kazakhstan, meanwhile, is too busy serving China with gas to worry about the European situation. Finally, Turkmenistan has been bogged down for more than two decades in the construction of a pipeline across the Caspian Sea and Russia has so far used its coastal rights in the Caspian to block activity on this route to European markets. Solving the geopolitical problems in this region is the key to opening the door to solutions to the EU's gas problem within a reasonable timeframe.

Although Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources recently published a report revealing the existence of 14 trillion cubic metres of shale gas reserves on European lands - more than enough for the 21st century - the main question remains how the EU will balance securing its energy supply with meeting the commitments set by the EU itself, even if shale gas is not a viable energy source to meet the EU's own 2050 targets.