Discussions have taken place between UK and Qatar over threat to LNG tankers
A series of FOI responses released today by Greenpeace have revealed government concerns over the threat to gas imports posed by piracy and terrorism.
The revelations ‚Äì which come just a day after Ofgem chief executive¬†Alistair Buchanan warned the UK faced a “horrendous” supply crunch¬†that will lead to five years of increased imports and volatile prices ‚Äì show that officials from the UK and Qatar have met on several occasions in recent years to discuss security threats to liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.
The documents¬†reveal that the governments regard LNG tankers as a “major energy security issue” that face piracy and terrorism threats, particularly as they sail past Oman and Yemen and then through the Strait of Hormuz.
The documents reveal that officials regard the countries as “lucky” there has not been a serious attack to date, although¬†Reuters¬†reports suggest an attack involving rocket-propelled grenades was foiled last summer.
The FOI responses also detail how steps have been taken to make LNG tankers more secure, including the fitting of heavy weapons, barbed wire and citadels to protect the ships. In addition, discussions have taken place about making use of “onboard security teams”, but fears were also raised that this approach could result in an “arms race on the high seas”.
The documents confirm the two countries are taking steps to address long-standing security concerns about LNG supplies, which have been heightened in recent months following the recent terrorist attack on a gas facility in Algeria.
Energy and security analysts have repeatedly warned that the Strait of Hormuz represents a point of vulnerability for the global energy market, given that an estimated 25 per cent of the world’s LNG supply and 17 per cent of its oil supply pass through the narrow strait each day.
Oil and gas prices¬†have spiked in the past following Iranian threats¬†that it might try to close the strait, while terrorism and piracy remain a constant threat in the region.
Piracy attacks in the region appear to have dropped in recent months, but security concerns remain and the UK is seen as particularly vulnerable as about 30 per cent of last year’s LNG was sourced from Qatar.
Greenpeace Energy Campaigner Leila Deen said the FOI responses and the risks they detail provide further evidence that the UK should be seeking to reduce its reliance on imported gas, instead of following the chancellor’s plan to significantly increase gas capacity.
“Soaring gas prices, families struggling with bills, and now very serious concerns about threats to supply ‚Äì what more will it take for chancellor George Osborne to admit defeat over his dash for gas?” she said. “To increase UK reliance on gas is clearly folly, yet this is exactly what Osborne’s gas strategy proposes.”
The news follows hot-on-the-heels of warnings from Ofgem’s outgoing boss that energy prices will almost certainly continue to climb over the next five years as the UK becomes more reliant on gas imports at a time when global demand for gas is soaring.
Buchanan acknowledged that the government’s long-term plans to increase renewable energy and nuclear capacity while also exploring the potential for domestic shale gas production would help reduce imports in the longer term. But he warned that these policies were unlikely to bear fruit over the next few years, leaving the UK increasingly exposed to volatile global gas prices.
He added the energy efficiency efforts were likely to become increasingly important as a means of curbing energy costs for businesses and households and tackling a looming supply crunch during the second half of the decade.