Thursday, August 12, 2004

Power! (sorry, the electrical kind)

Some interesting developments on the energy politics front. For a start, a giant contract has just been signed by Centrica (which owns the British Gas name) and a Malaysian oil firm to import huge quantities of liquified natural gas into the UK. This has been one of the running long term stories of the last few years, as the North Sea gas production runs down and the quantity of electricity produced from gas goes up. One answer is to import Russian gas through the interconnector pipeline from Holland, squirting it back into the old gas fields for storage. It's a neat idea, but there are some well publicised problems, not least that a crisis anywhere upstream of the UK along the pipe to Russia could cut us off. So, the idea of diversifying the supply of gas is welcome. As is finding a use for those old Milford Haven oil terminals, one of which is going to be reactivated and converted as a huge LNG port.

There are a couple of interesting security/defence implications. Gas is transported in gigantic tankers and stored in tanks so cold that they create permafrost around them. And it explodes. I recall being told that maritime terrorism was limited in effect because a laden oil tanker won't actually explode, for example the French VLCC Limburg which was attacked by an al-Qa'ida suicide boat off Yemen in 2002. Although a big hole was blown in the ship, she survived. An LNG tanker is a more dramatic proposition, as the gas must be kept at very low temperatures to be liquid - if the tanks are breached, it would expand rapidly. Not to mention being explosive. Most of the planned gas imports will come from Egypt or Algeria.

So nowhere dangerous or unstable, then.

It's no wonder that the First Sea Lord, Sir Alan West, was recently quoted as saying that al-Qa'ida was a threat to merchant shipping. It's also very little wonder that the Government was so keen on celebrating the 300th anniversary of British rule in Gibraltar.

Another interesting sidelight on energy appeared in the Guardian today, in the form of a report on how some environmentalists are now reconsidering their opposition to nuclear power in the light of climate change and energy security problems. The story is here. Wouldn't that be a turn up for the book?

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