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Russia-Ukraine Crisis: War, Fossil Fuels, and What it Means for Pennsylvanians

Russia’s war with Ukraine is underlining the economic and national security costs of relying on fossil fuels. Global reliance on limited, place-based fossil fuel resources, such as Russia’s gas reserves, has become a tool of authoritarian leaders, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, to exert their global influence, regardless of its human and economic costs. How the world—including states like Pennsylvania—reacts to this global security crisis may dictate our energy future for years to come.

Russia bases its leverage on the world stage on its fossil fuel production and Western reliance on their supply, and is using this leverage to engage in military operations in Ukraine. The European Union relies on Russia for around 40 percent of its fossil fuel supply. Global recourse against Russian aggression in Ukraine, such as military action or economic sanctions, could result in immediate energy consequences in Europe, potentially by Russia limiting supply, as well as global implications because fossil fuel prices will be (and already are) skyrocketing.

The sanctions recently announced by President Biden and other world leaders will begin testing Russia’s fossil fuel leverage over the world. For its part, the United States has temporarily worked behind the scenes to ameliorate these energy concerns in the short-term by working with partner countries to increase liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to the European Union. In fact, the United States is now the largest exporter of LNG to the European Union. As a result, Germany, Russia’s largest trading partner in Europe, was comfortable halting operation of the massive Nord Stream 2 fracked gas pipeline project, an $11 billion pipeline designed to double the amount of gas flowing from Russia to Germany. However, as Russia’s war with Ukraine continues, prices will continue to rise worldwide and our energy security problems will only deepen.

In response to Russia’s war and western economic sanctions, what happens next will be telling. Russia may respond to harsher sanctions by suspending sales of fracked gas to the West. Outside of Europe, Russia produces 10 percent of the world’s supply, and 3 percent of the US’s daily consumption of fracked gas. U.S. consumers have already begun feeling the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, with nationwide gas prices rising 20 cents on average in the last month alone. In Pennsylvania, as well, consumers have been facing rising prices due in part to the crisis.  

We are also starting to see the fossil fuel industry try and take advantage of this global crisis. Gene Barr, President of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, is calling for state and federal policy changes to allow for building more pipelines and export facilities—going so far as calling out advocates as well as environmental and safety regulations as being the equivalent of “enriching Russia.” Three Pennsylvania State Senators are advancing a resolution calling on President Biden to restart the Keystone XL Pipeline—a pipeline that was canceled in 2020, which would have increased the capacity of transporting tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada, into the United States. And State Representative Seth Grove is proposing the End Russian Aggression Act to de-regulate fracking, expedite pipeline permits, provide new subsidies for pipeline construction, and end Pennsylvania’s alignment with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

In Pennsylvania, the recent completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline to the Marcus Hook refinery and export facilities is now poised to increase LNG exports to Europe from the frack fields in Pennsylvania, creating an opportunity for the fossil fuel industry to argue for state policies that allow for more drilling with efforts to counter Russian aggressions.

The United States—and Pennsylvania—has a long-term choice to make. We could follow the playbook of the fracked gas industry, Rep. Grove, and other policymakers and drill, baby, drill to potentially send more LNG to market for overseas export (not for national markets) and raise energy prices further because of increased competition abroad. Or it could chart another path that doesn’t rely on drilling, pipelines, and the whims of global energy markets by pushing for renewable energy sources.

The pro-climate change policies enacted at the state and federal level in recent months cannot be thrown off-course by fracking enthusiasts that are singularly driven by their profit margin. We certainly believe doubling down on the long-term reliance on fossil fuels in Pennsylvania in reaction to a global energy crisis caused by the Russian government cannot be further from the solution or the truth. Our energy policies must continue to have long-term, future generations in mind. 

Furthermore, reliance on fossil fuels is not energy independence. In fact, we’re not the only ones that think so—the European Union is paving a far different path forward than drill, baby, drill by hitting the gas pedal on renewable energy.

The crisis in Ukraine has forced Germany, and the European Union as a whole, to reevaluate their complex relationship with the Kremlin and the dirty energy the EU consumes from them. The EU plans to unveil an initiative in the next week that would fast-track the permitting process for renewable energy projects. European policymakers acknowledge they would be in a better spot if they had started more concerted work on building robust energy independence years ago, but they say that in some ways skeptics have needed this crisis to be kicked into action. In December, Germany approved $68 billion to accelerate its climate and green infrastructure spending.

It is past time that the United States, and our Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, embraces a renewable energy future. A renewable energy future, in addition to being great for American workers, jobs, and our climate, would prove to be a better investment of America’s resources and national security and serve as a robust alternative to further reliance on authoritarian dirty energy. 

The world looks different today to many—the post-World War II global alignment is threatening to be shattered by Russia’s aggressions in Ukraine. But for many still, the world has also looked different because of the global insecurity and economic threat that is climate change. An energy crisis caused by Russian military action and weaponizing fracking is not an anomalous event—it’s the latest in a constant drumbeat of natural disasters, fossil fuel infrastructure crises, and geopolitical threats sparked by a reliance on fossil fuels.

The United States—and Pennsylvanians—have a choice: continue the energy policies of fossil fuels— those causing public health and natural disasters—or charter a renewable energy path that breaks us from this cycle once and for all. 

The chorus of voices from the fossil fuel industry will only grow louder in the coming weeks, all seeking the same handouts and weakened regulations. We should reject this chorus and not double down on the policies that have exacerbated this crisis in the first place. Europe is publically wishing it moved faster toward renewables. We shouldn’t make the same mistake.

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