By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow
We’ve talked a little bit about hydro-fracturing before, and the possible revolutionary effect it could have of European energy supplies. However, there are some serious down-sides to hydro-fracturing, and the ever environmentally conscious most European countries are looking increasingly balk-ish at using the possibly-polluting technology, even if it means gaining energy independence from Russia. Well, most European countries are, but Ukraine has broken with the pack (we’re at the beginning of the month again, which means that I won’t feel bad linking you to the confusingly pay-walled New York Times).
But Ukraine is in a much different position than most other countries in Europe. It isn’t a member of the EU, so it doesn’t have to follow as strict of guidelines related to procedures that harm the environment. Ukraine is also extremely dependent of Russian natural gas, and relies on Russia for the vast majority of its natural energy. It also has a long, semi-dysfunctional relationship with Russia, which cut off the natural gas to Ukraine twice in the last ten years. Plus, there’s the whole Russia-taking-over-Ukraine drama.
Actually, its that whole Russia-taking-over-Ukraine drama that is underlying this issue. Geopolitics has always been at odds with environmental concerns on this Europe’s hydrofracking debate, and Ukraine’s proximity to Russia and, ahem, unique history puts it in an already uncomfortable position. Leaders have accused Russians of meddling in domestic affairs for a long time—including shutting off gas to influence Ukraine’s perceived political shift towards the EU and US. So it makes sense that Ukrainian leaders would be more inclined to put their political independence over concerns about safe drinking water, even if those concerns are really well founded.
Looking forward, expect the countries with the most to lose, like Poland, on the forefront of European hydrofracturing. Most experts agree that we’re still about 5-10 years from knowing just how much shale gas is available for extraction, but the Poles have already initiated a vast exploration campaign to investigate their own possible reserves. As these surveys become more complete, look for countries in the former Near-Abroad with reserves to start exploiting them, despite the well-publicized environmental risks. Conversely, Western European countries, which have a more diversified mix of energy suppliers and a lack of searing historical baggage with Mother Russia, are much less likely to risk the environmental degradation hydro-fracturing could possibly cause.