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Showdown On The Energy Frontier

Russia's huge oil and gas fields test relations with foreign investors

6 min read

When it comes to oil and gas, things in Russia are large—very large. Russia controls more oil and gas reserves than any other single country and is the world’s largest natural gas producer and exporter. Two of the world’s three largest natural gas fields lie within its borders. And as Western Europe, the northeast Asian countries, and the United States maneuver to line up reliable suppliers for the next decade, Russia has gained enormous leverage.

The Russian Federation’s temporary suspension of natural gas shipments to Ukraine last winter, together with plans for a subsea gas pipeline to Germany that will bypass the Eastern European countries, have heightened concerns about whether Vladimir Putin’s government might manipulate energy supplies to achieve larger political objectives. At the same time, foreign investors have had plenty of reason to worry about whether the government is playing fair financially, as it seeks to renegotiate long-term development contracts on terms more favorable to itself. Recent moves by OAO Gazprom, in Moscow, the state-owned giant that is also the largest oil and gas company in the world, have riled Western energy companies already working in Russia [see photo, "Tough Players"].

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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