Friday, July 9, 2021

Margarita M. Balmaceda's "Russian Energy Chains"

Margarita M. Balmaceda is a professor of diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University. She is also an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Her books include The Politics of Energy Dependency: Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania Between Domestic Oligarchs and Russian Pressure (2013) and Living the High Life in Minsk: Russian Energy Rents, Domestic Populism, and Belarus’ Impending Crisis (2014).

Balmaceda applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Russian Energy Chains: The Remaking of Technopolitics from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union, and reported the following:
Page 99 is located in the middle of chapter 4 of the book (“Natural Gas: Managing Pressure from Western Siberia to the N├╝rnberg Power Plant”), the first of three parallel chapters analyzing, respectively, the journey of a natural gas, an oil and a coal molecule from production in Russia to final consumers in Germany in order to compare how the different materiality characteristics of different types of energy affect the way it may be used as an instrument of (domestic or) externally-oriented power. In page 99, in the middle of chapter 4, our natural gas molecule finds itself in the Ukrainian-Slovak border, in the middle of a complex gas transit system.

Most of page 99 is taken by a map, “Uzhgorod area gas infrastructure map” (more on this below).

Here is an additional excerpt from page 99:
In addition to its use in managing networkness and Gazprom’s exports to Western Europe, underground storage could also be used in more domestic-related ways. Ukraine reportedly used supplies from storage—but shipped in reverse of the usual route—to supply its own population during the January 2009 gas cutoff. Their technical characteristics also made stored volumes hard to secure and account for, facilitating their misappropriation and helping create distinct distributive openings.
The page 99 test works well for my book as it illustrates several central ideas of the book.

Page 99 features a map that encapsulates many of the larger themes of the book. This map is a high-detail map of natural gas transit infrastructure in the Western Ukrainian area near the borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. This map illustrates two key arguments made in the book: 1) In contrast with the prevalent view presenting gas pipelines as a single-line conduct for energy and power where supplies can be simply turned on and off at will by the supplying country (in this case, Russia) for political pressure purposes, this map illustrates how complex long-distance gas transportation is, and how, for it to happen, a number of elements need to work in synergy – and not only the will of the supplier. In particular, the prominent role of underground gas storage sites in the map (without match in the former USSR in terms of volume and location next to export markets) illustrates Ukraine’s extremely important role making possible Russia’s profitable natural gas exports, and not only because gas transits through it. These sites are key for Russian exports in several ways. As discussed in this chapter, a key element in natural gas supply chains is managing physical pressure in the pipeline, as natural gas, being lighter than air, would not move at all in the pipeline without pressure, but too much pressure can endanger property and human lives. So the enterprise becomes one in managing pressure: from reducing pressure when natural gas comes out of the ground so that it can be handled, to significantly increasing pressure to make it possible for gas to move in the pipeline, to reducing pressure again as it reaches smaller-diameter city pipelines so that it can be safely distributed. Most important in our case, having available large und reliable underground storage facilities (from which natural gas could be pumped in and out as needed) was essential both for the managing of pressure in the system and for the managing of seasonal demand swings –such as storing natural gas until the winter months when demand would be higher and it could fetch a higher price. The technical needs related to natural gas’ materiality transform Ukraine from being simply a passive recipient of Russian energy to a key player.
Learn more about Russian Energy Chains at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue