The real threat to our national security

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The real threat to our national security

The UK’s dependency on energy imports is a threat to our national security. We need to embrace alternative sources, says Sebastien Kurzel.

One of the biggest unspoken threats to the UK is energy security. The UK is more dependent than ever before on energy imports, according to the ONS, because of a decline in North Sea oil and gas production. In fact, our reliance on imported energy has returned to levels last seen around the 1970s. Over the last few years between 40 to 50 percent of our energy has been imported. The temporary shutdown of the Forties pipeline late last year shows us both how important energy security is and how vulnerable we are as a country.

The pipeline network in the North Sea carries about 30 per cent of the UK’s oil or around 550 thousand barrels per day. A crack recently forced its owner, Ineos, to temporarily shut down the system; and although they have announced it will reopen early in the New Year, it is not impossible to imagine this been drawn out.

It is not infeasible to imagine a situation in the future where the pipeline, for reasons completely outside of our control, will have to be shut down for months on end. The outcome would be that the UK would have to go to the international markets to import this extra capacity, increasing total imports to a massive 70 per cent.

Where will this oil come from? More than likely a combination of Russia and the Middle East. These are both problems, for obvious reasons. While conflict in the Middle East has slowed down recently, there is no sign of stability returning to the region in the near future. Many people forget that conflict is ongoing in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq – and there is the potential for conflict to further flare up in Yemen.

On the other hand, Russia is now starting to flex its international diplomatic muscles more strongly. It is not impossible to imagine Putin choking supplies in some future negotiations to put the British Government up against a wall. This is something that Greg Clarke and Richard Harrington need to take increasingly seriously. They need to shoot the starting gun a UK energy policy, which on-shores as much production as possible.

The good news is that we’re in a position of relative strength. We have a number of viable energy sources across the full spectrum of fossil fuels and renewables. For example, the UK is estimated to have large shale gas resources, with more than 1,300 trillion cubic feet (TCF) across the north of England. There are further volumes in central Scotland and around Weald in South England. To put these numbers in perspective the demand for gas in the UK at the moment annually is around 3 TCF.

On top of this, there are a number of entrepreneurs experimenting with alternative means of generating energy. For example, Engie operates a number of hydroelectricity plants in Wales. UK entrepreneur Philip Day also recently built one of the world’s largest biogas Anaerobic Digesters in Penrith, UK. The Government needs to embrace these alternatives, and help the UK reduces its dependency on overseas imports. It needs to lay out a clear plan of action to take back control of our energy supplies, and that will likely include both reforms to allow the commercial adoption and extraction of shale gas, as well as further incentivises for sensible renewable and nuclear energy sources. This is not a problem that is going away.

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  • Sebastien Kurzel
    Sebastien Kurzel
    Sebastien Kurzel is a Masters student at LSE, and previously studied geology. He is interested in the interface between energy sources, geopolitics, and UK national security.
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