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More On Putin's Energy Gambit

Michael Klare has a long essay on Putin's energy gambit in the Caucasus: "The ultimate prize in this contest is control over the flow of oil and natural gas from the energy-rich Caspian basin to eager markets in Europe and Asia." No kidding. But even if it's not earth-shattering, Klare's essay offers a good overview and is well worth reading.

One big question is what European countries will do on the energy-security front, as they try to move away from relying on Russia for its natural-gas supplies—which have become increasingly important as the continent slowly weans itself off coal and oil to meet its Kyoto emissions targets. (Natural gas isn't carbon-free, but it's cleaner than those other fuels, and not a terrible stopgap.) A massive shift away from all fossil fuels would be ideal, though admittedly easier said than done. And the prospects for Plan A, the Nabucco gas pipeline running from the Caspian through Georgia and Turkey to Central Europe, have dimmed—Russia's invasion appears to have scared off investors.

Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail reported recently that Italy, Germany, and Spain may start leaning more heavily on Algeria and Libya for natural-gas supplies, but that may not take them very far (plus, Russia has offered to buy up all of Libya's exports). Natural-gas production in the United States will certainly increase, true, though it's still unclear how far the country can actually ramp up domestic production; the fact that shale drilling can wreak havoc on local water supplies poses one major obstacle. Moreover, it's doubtful that the United States will become a major supplier to the rest of the world (it's certainly difficult to imagine lots of new liquefied natural-gas export terminals sprouting up around the country over local opposition).

--Bradford Plumer