by Jorge Vilches for the Saker blog
Sir Isaac Newton vs. the EC
There are plenty of formal peer-reviewed industry papers and articles published in specialized international oil & gas journals regarding theoretical “huge volumes” of supposed European nat-gas “reserves”. Supposedly, such reserves would “solve” the absolutely unnecessary self-inflicted European nat-gas crisis. Furthermore, there are lots of curious back-of-the-envelope ´calculations´ plus added blah blah blah with the very same prognosis in mind. And even some European Commission members are on record describing a highly optimistic outlook on how long ( months ! ) would Europe´s natural gas reserves ´easily´ last after Russia stops delivering its traditional and highly reliable (and cheap) nat-gas feedstock. The hard part though — not ever explained by bureaucratic ignoramuses — is exactly how such nat-gas reserves would be forced out of their current storage without any back-flow pressure from Russian nat-gas to push it as required by Isaac Newton´s fluid mechanics, who if alive today would obviously be a hard-core Brexiteer.
high school physics
The problem starts when ignorant fools dream up the idea that nat-gas reserves can be used as a 100% substitute for nat-gas flowing feedstocks. They simply cannot, period. Actually, God invented nat-gas reserves as a supplement to – not a substitute of – flowing nat-gas feedstocks so that in high demand season (European winter) the cheaper nat-gas reserves piled up during low consumption season (European summer) could be added to help satisfying winter´s high demand. Nat-gas reserves are good for nothing more than that and definetly not a substitute of flowing feedstocks.
enter nat-gas reserves
Obviously, it´s very hard to know exactly what type and practical-use nat-gas “storage” capabilities different European countries have available today. For sure, such nat-gas European storage facilities are heterogenous and also varying from country to country. And we also know that in this case high-school physics still do matter much. Accordingly, many / most above-ground atmospheric pressure nat-gas reserve tanks or highly pressurized subsurface caverns by themselves will not work as expected unless a backflow – even at very low flow rates and inflow pressures — is constantly maintained from the Russian pipeline source… thus pushing the stored nat-gas out. Otherwise, in the event that the Russian pipeline were completely shut-off, Newtonian physics ( how ironic ) would not allow, for example, to suction nat-gas out of its current storage as a vacuum would be drawn making outflow impossible.
no flow, how come ?
So, as suction is impossible, once Russian pipeline nat-gas inflow stops dead (which Russia intends to do…) such European stored gas would not be naturally displaced or “moved along” to elsewhere it may be needed be it for power generation or anything else. And if the Russian nat-gas backflow / push pressure were substituted by any other gas or mixtures thereof (air or otherwise) the Russian pure nat-gas already stored would soon inter-mix and dilute beyond possible practical use as European installations and equipment are contractually fine-tuned for pure Russian nat-gas, not anything else…
The proven “possible” partial solutions for this huge problem are 3 and only 3 but for which no need has ever existed to actually attempt full European daily supply. All three have serious problems, including the low volume of nat-gas that can be extracted daily does not anywhere meet current European consumption needs. So one possible solution is having a “piston-like” storage tank system whereby the nat-gas already stored is “pushed out” by a huge piston-like surface within a special “variable geometry” storage tank. We can´t know if these very special “syringe” facilities are already installed in the right places and working as needed, but most probably they are not. Usually such tanks are tiny small in comparison to what Europe now needs and only practical for occasional use in very specific industrial feedstocks. They are very rare, very small, expensive, unreliable… and difficult to operate.
the second (bad) chance
The second possibility is storing nat-gas under ultra-high pressure, either inside underground caverns or on surface tanks. These are terribly expensive as well as über-dangerous to the point of ´not-in-my-back-yard´ urban locations. These also require tons of specialized operation and maintenance. Delivery is very slow with lots of residual nat-gas always left behind. Peak demand higher speed delivery can only be maintained momentarily. And as the nat-gas is depleted the outflow pressure decreases requiring even further equipment and complications plus cumbersome facilities and expertise, etc. Nat-gas outflow necessarily means nat-gas expansion which added to freezing mid-winter conditions leads to highly complicated temperature-management issues that no one seems to know or care about. Eventually they will, trust me.
No.3 no lucky charm
The third possibility is trying to substitute the required Russian pipeline nat-gas flow (soon absent) with LNG backflow from LNG seaborne terminals to ´push out´ the Russian nat-gas stored in surface tanks or underground. But pulling such un-planned experiment would require enormous amount of time (!!!) detailed engineering, plans & specs, lots of funding, specialized personnel and equipment etc etc etc to timely hook up to the current storage tanks (or subsurface caverns) connecting them to the LNG sources which anyway are not nearly enough to cover for European needs as things now stand. So no matter how much and how hard they hurry to conclude such shambolic and highly expensive – and risky — projects of sorts, still the required LNG shipping freight fleet from far away sources is nowhere to be found while October far colder temperatures are only two weeks away.
LNG kaputt ?
Furthermore, talking about LNG terminals for whichever use or application, it is obvious that them all are necessarily risky in what engineers call “a single point of failure”. If, for whatever reasons – navigational, operational, technical, commercial or otherwise – such LNG terminals were “out of order”… as everyday Germans would say… it´d be a European LNG “kaputt”.
can run but not hide
All three storage possibilities require adequate distribution of such throughout Europe (!!!) data collection, funding, experimentation, fine tuning, developing 3D static and dynamic geological models, precise characterization of the storage behavior thru time elapsed, sensitivities analyses, risk assessments, cost-benefit calculations, feasibility studies, engineering, EU certification, commissioning, inter-connection for sharing between countries, etc. etc. etc.
So the above summarized description should have unforeseen consequences as all of the European 2 months and
3-months “winter-proof” reserves we get to hear about from smart-ass know-it-alls would probably be nonsensical without the constant push from Russian pipeline nat-gas back-flow at least at a minimum flow rate and pressure to mobilize the already stored nat-gas. So whenever we hear about supposed European nat-gas storage “reserves” please recall that such were conceived and implementable only if Russian pipeline nat-gas inflow were constantly maintained ( not anymore ) with at least a minimum inflow rate and pressure.
flatten the curve ?
Of course, we may assume that these nat-gas ´reserves´ could help out Europe somewhat somehow in yet un-defined ways. Or maybe not, and the whole idea is just to ´flatten the curve´ somewhat by stretching the narrative a bit but still freezing the EU out just two weeks later. But whichever way European nat-gas reserve volumes are diced or sliced, as the EU war against Russia is now plain obvious, this winter Europe will most probably have to do without direct sale of Russian nat-gas. Or maybe Europe does end up buying LNG originally sourced with Russian nat-gas but liquefied and sold through intermediary third parties at an unbelievably high price and only available on a hit-and-miss basis.
German “perfection” (not)
This would not be the first time that a simple yet gross mis-calculation takes place at an enormously grand scale. During WW2 the Luftwaffe infamously erred in its capabilities to air-bridge Lt. General Friedrich von Paulus isolated 6th. Army with supplies and gear to withstand and possibly overcome the Russian defenses at Stalingrad. This dramatic German failure enabled the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad and the loss of almost one million Wehrmacht soldiers either killed, wounded, starved or imprisoned as a result of the “cauldron” the Russian Army encircled them with to achieve the shamefull German unconditional surrender.