Energy Security and Defence

One of the many arguments for maintaining a strong maritime presence is energy security, particularly fossil fuels, oil and gas.

But is this valid?

The Conservative party, to their credit, have highlighted the issue a number of time, even though they indulged in a spot of scaremongering. In October 2009 the Shadow Energy Minister, Greg Clark MP, delivered a speech on the issue titled Keeping Britain’s Lights on. For maximum showbiz effect, it started with the lights off and raised the spectre of rolling blackouts. There was also a strong inference that we were at the mercy of the Kremlin, all they had to do was turn off the taps and old ladies in bobble hats would be dropping like flies.

Earlier this year, in the grip of an extremely cold winter, several large industrial users faced restrictions in supply as domestic users were prioritised. These large users had signed up for interruptible tariffs in return for discount pricing so could not really complain, you pays your money and you take your chances. This however, did not stop the bandwagon jumpers (i.e. press and opposition politicians) seizing upon the issue, evoking the famous phrase ‘keeping the lights on’  yet again.

The Conservative Party’s pre election strategy paper, A Resilient Nation, devoted a paragraph to the issue of energy security, stating;

The danger that the country now faces of a real risk of the lights going out – inadequate power to keep the economy going – was entirely predictable even before Tony Blair spoke and yet his government did virtually nothing.  Taken together, the lack of resilience in the UK’s stretched power generation, strained energy transmission, insecurity of energy supply and lack of emergency storage is nothing short of alarming. Forming a coherent energy policy, joining domestic with overseas factors, security with long term climate change goals and private sector investment with government policies on resilience of systems will be an urgent Conservative priority on entering office and is an example of an approach that can be applied to other essential sectors

In a supporting Annexe, the paper makes it clear that the armed forces will play a part in addressing the issue of energy security

Reflect energy security concerns in the tasking of the Armed Forces. The MoD should have regard to energy security in the tasking of our Armed Forces, for example the Royal Navy in the security of the sea lanes and the safety of maritime traffic

Research carried out has shown that the true issue with gas security and resilience are a lack of storage capacity and a poor delivery infrastructure. The Greenpeace funded research concluded that threats to UK energy security come from 4 areas;

  • Fossil fuel depletion and external disruptions
  • Underinvestment in infrastructure
  • Technology and infrastructure failure
  • Deliberate disruption

Gas, particularly shale gas, is being extracted in increasing quantities as new reserves are located and exploited but it is an unfortunate geopolitical fact that the majority of oil and gas is found in areas of questionable stability

To mitigate the debilitating effect of wide area disruptions due to adverse weather for example, a greater diversity in supply, storage and transmission is an obvious means of providing greater resilience.

Deliberate disruption may be inflicted from local, national or international sources.

The majority of gas imports come from Norway via fixed pipelines but this may well change in the next decade or so as LNG and Russian gas increases its share of UK supply. LNG import facilities are distributed around the country but the majority of capacity is concentrated around Milford Haven in Wales, the Dragon and South Hook regassification terminals

As our reliance on imports accelerates, particularly for gas, it is an obvious national priority but the investment split between storage capacity, supply diversity, demand reduction and even military capability is open to debate.

Unless new and extractable reserves are found it is likely that by 2030 the UK will be a total gas importer and although significant volumes will be from European sources via pipelines a significant amount will be via imported LNG. A few days ago South Hook Gas announced the 100th LNG cargo supply to the UK via the South Hook Terminal. The gas flowing into South Hook comes from Qatar’s North Field gas reserves in the Arabian Gulf.

LNG requires timely distribution because of evaporation, the natural gas is compressed to form a liquid and although modern LNG carriers have onboard boil off regassification plants, a significant volume is still lost (although some of this is used to power the ship)

Delays therefore, are far from welcome and re routing LNG carriers around the Cape instead of the Suez would push loss and therefore prices, up considerably.

Transmission, generation and storage capabilities have seen variance in investment but many projects are in the pipeline so to speak and the realisation that renewables are going to have to take a back seat to gas and nuclear generation means that even a government in denial must at some point snap out of their ‘green’ trance and start generating more than hot air and wishful thinking.

The recent outspoken criticism of the Renewable Obligation Certificate and carbon reduction targets from the chairman of Aggreko, the temporary power group, must serve as yet another wakeup call to this delinquent government. Robert Soames went on to say;

“The idea that CCS [carbon capture and storage] is going to be able to contribute significantly to power generation inside of 15 or 20 years is bonkers. People who are not engineers seem to have an unrealistic view of what’s going to be possible”

He also accused politicians of “holding hands and singing Kumbaya to the great green God” but warned the reality is it will be many decades before renewable energy can plug the gap left by traditional sources of power.

So it should be clear that the UK faces an uncertain energy future, if current government policies do not address the wishful thinking on renewable energy and start acting in the interests of this country there exists, despite the scaremongering, a real threat to continuity of supply. The government is set to publish a paper on electricity market reform that is reportedly likely to ‘go nuclear’ and this is an obvious step in the right direction but the UK will still need a range of generation types in the short and medium term, i.e. significant imports of gas. Low gas prices also threaten the financial position of power generation companies, especially those looking to invest in nuclear. Even lower wholesale gas prices do not automatically reduce consumer prices, I have to admit; it’s all very confusing!

Whatever happens with the domestic market it is likely that we will increasingly rely on gas imports, delivered to the UK in LNG tankers or via pipelines from Europe, the security of those supplies must be a high priority for the whole of government.

As we approach winter, gas prices rise and the spectre of widespread fuel poverty makes a serious appearance there simply has to be acceleration in generation, storage and distribution projects.

The enormity of the situation puts discussions on the role of the military in securing energy supplies almost into 75th place in terms of things to do; investment in generation, gas storage, inter country trading agreements and transmission systems are self evidently of a higher priority but security threats do exist and need to be addressed.

At home, there are a finite number of locations where gas is landed using pipelines or LNG tankers. These locations are well known and obvious targets for terrorist attack. Whether an LNG terminal would actually represent an attractive target for terrorists is questionable, the potential for mass casualties very low, but a scenario that involves proxies is not wholly inconceivable and an attack would be newsworthy. With small storage capacity and a small number of relatively isolated locations, the UK is quite vulnerable to significant disruption from a targeted attack although the sheer scale of the infrastructure would need a suitably large attack; a rucksack full of homemade explosives is unlikely to have much effect.

We must also assume that there already exists a range of security and contingency measures in place.

Given the Qatari North Field represents approximately 19% of world gas reserves it clearly is an important location and not just for the UK.

A more likely threat of disruption comes from attack or denial of the production, loading and transport facilities in the Persian Gulf, especially in this case, the Qatari gas field. The Q Max tankers now used carry approximately 260,000 cubic metres of LNG and as economies of scale push size up and numbers down, vulnerability increases. Production platforms, gas to liquid plants and other infrastructure is vulnerable to direct conventional attack. With between 3 and 5 tankers per week leaving the area bound for the UK, coupled with low storage capacity and increasing reliance on this source of gas, attacks against the area would have a significant effect on the UK, even more so until nuclear can be expanded.

LNG Tanker
LNG Tanker

Conventional attacks might manifest themselves in a wider regional conflict or more likely, the use proxies and easily deniable means such as mines. Iran also has extensive oil and gas facilities in the area as well, many funded and operated in conjunction with western organisations, therefore any conflict would be many dimensional.

Attacks by pirates may be no more than a nuisance but may also cause disruption and price fluctuations.

Currently we have the forward basing of a number of Royal Navy mines countermeasures vessels, as I have mentioned before, this is a capability area in which the UK excels. Beyond that we might look at a range of political, commercial and military measures to improve resilience and increase security.

Those favouring a stronger Royal Navy point to energy security as one of the main justifications (usually about CVF) but what capabilities deliver the greatest effect in the most cost effective manner, should we be investing in developing local capacity or providing direct defence for example?

Personally, I think our greatest contribution to the collective security in the area and thus by definition, a significant contribution to energy security at home, should be in developing local capacity and capabilities, training and working in local security partnerships for example. This goes against the ‘strong navy’ mindset, based around CVF and high technology surface combatants, but our limited budget could be better employed.

So, my brief defence and security suggestions are;

  • Investigate a bi lateral security agreement with Qatar that might create a framework for greater security cooperation
  • Expand the mine countermeasures capability in the area
  • Increase training and capacity building in conjunction with Qatar

In addition to the sensible suggestions, how about asking Qatar if they want to timeshare MRA4?

3 or 4 MRA4 would provide a massive boost to the protection of the offshore gas production facilities and transit routes for shipping.

Increasing security in the area is not the sole responsibility of the UK but we should play a part.

What our contribution might look like is worthy of debate.

What do you think; home, away, heavy metal or softly softly?

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November 15, 2010 12:16 pm

“In addition to the sensible suggestions, how about asking Qatar if they want to timeshare MRA4? 3 or 4 MRA4 would provide a massive boost to the protection of the offshore gas production facilities and transit routes for shipping.”

Excellent idea.

November 15, 2010 12:44 pm

It’s not the question if energy will run out, but if the current and future reserves can keep up with rising demand. Oil and gas won’t run out in the near term – at least not at the doomsday rate often publicized – but the fear is that the rising demand from the “new rich” with booming populations (India, China, South America, even Africa) cannot keep pace with established reserves.

And not just the oil fields, but refineries and secure supply lines (SLOC) also have a place in the energy. Especially the latter still requires overseas deployments of Western forces.

November 15, 2010 2:51 pm

Its not a question of “If” but “when” traditional resources run out and become harder to find… its very likely that peak oil has been surpassed; we dont know due to opec and other organisations hide the real figures and also the fact that we wont know till it hits us… the problem of increasing populations the world over with higher demands will eventually cause a lot of friction, not just at current non-renewable resource sites, but those in the future; Alaska, South Atlantic (debateable) etc. Not just for oil and gas, but a whole range of ‘security’ issues from immigration to water and even land for food… the UK and other countries are already buying lands in Ukraine and other sountries to ensure its people can continue to eat cornflakes XD
The UK is better off to combat the effects of climate change as it happens, as are most ‘western’ and ‘BRICK’ like countries… its kinda sad that we are looking at ‘whether we can fight people in their own land for their resources’ but it is increasingly likely that its gonna go that way.

But it isn’t that new a topic is it? Even in WW1 we were pretty weak on resource security…not to mention the fact during WW2…the soviets planned for something similar if the cold went hot, didn’t they? (arguably to strangele US support flooding in)and also like one of the SBS’s primary role was (still is?) to prevent disruption to our oil rigs in the north sea, either through war or terrorisim means. That reminds me that that too,was a key role for the Nimrod… they’d spend more time in the north sea and northern atlantic to keep rigs safe and secure naval supply routes…

In the end…with the death of Nimrod (the P8 is a pipe dream compared) we will loose once again another valuable asset… not just materially, but support and in trained personell. Lets just hope the same wont happen to ship-building, since this island nation will rely more than ever on overseas resources.

Anyways, thats my own hat tip to this. Everyones focusing on oil and gas, but the longer term will see us looking for food, water etc too

November 15, 2010 2:52 pm

Everyones focusing on oil and gas, but the longer term will see us looking for food, water etc too

November 15, 2010 3:21 pm

Mike – I agree, energy security should just be resource security.

As some former green’s keep telling us, it has to be Nukes. Wind and Wave and all that is great, but for a base loading we need to do what the French do, generate a lot more electrickery from Nuclear power. I know burning gas in the home is actually quite efficient, but at some point we might be stuck with electric storage heaters whether we want them or not. There are plenty of modern nuclear technologies, from around the world – but geopolitically, who has the raw materials ? We need to be breaking ground now on new nuclear stations (by we I mean both the UK and my adopted colony of Canada) and considering how we secure access to the raw fuel, and how we secure the wastes in a ‘non-proliferation’ context.

paul g
November 15, 2010 5:01 pm

seeing as i live on the coast i have the dubious joy of watching static turbines from my window, with no storage facilities for wind power it’s about as much use as a handbrake on a canoe!
Something that hasn’t cropped up in earlier comments is the push and the increasing sales of electric cars, which surprise surprise need charging, and therefore need power, most of the fast charging facilities are 3 phase and gobble more power, so ergo more power stations are required.

November 15, 2010 7:57 pm

The french “nuclear baseload” goes down every summer, when the rivers get heated. But you’re right: there are some exciting technologies on the verge, like travelling wave reactors, basically running with nuclear waste.

“the longer term will see us looking for food, water etc too”
You gonna get back, what you put into the system. Water is a problem of infrastructure and the basic lack of investment in that sector in the UK. Farming has largely been made unprofitable by low-price-discounter-chains and the misuse of US- and EU-agriculture bounties. In short: to eat fatty cheap-as-chips-convenience-crap kills farming enterprises and leads to food dependency, readily filled by bountied french and spanish suppliers.

Re renewables:
The most pessimistic Germans expect to be on 50% renewables by 2040 including a push to electric cars. And this without the possibility of tidal power generation and very few good places for wind-turbines. And you keep telling, it’s impossible in the UK. Maybe, just some good old british genius is needed.

If the nuclear waste problem is not being solved, the current financial debacle will look like a childs birthday. Here is some math: a billion pound a year (minimum) cost for storage + capital-cost, added up for hundreds of years, with no possibility to hedge against inflation. Yeah, seems pretty economic.

paul g
November 15, 2010 9:10 pm

read a good article today on nuclear fusion should break even (as in same power out for same power in) in 2-3 years time

November 16, 2010 4:48 am

I read a report this year from the US Marine Corps, and a few other US government reports, that highlighted resource scarcity as the number one threat to the US and Western Europe. Pretty much, we can’t afford to pay for imports anymore, whilst emerging nations can. (I mean, our debt levels are ridiculous, we have almost nothing to export, and we’ve shed most of our industry.)

Some people call it ‘the long emergency’. I think it’s an apt name. With a world population already past the planet’s carrying capacity, plus peak oil, soil erosion, and limited fuel and water reserves, we can expect some pretty nasty ‘realignments’ over our lifetimes, including a population crash.

For countries like the UK, it’ll be more painful because we can expect the economy to remain moribund for a decade or more. (I mean, everyone from Cantor Fitzgerald to Gerald Celente say so.) That means we won’t be able to spend money on new technologies or infrastructure to cope with the crisis.

Cameron’s Mansion House speech yesterday protested that the the UK was still a world power, and not an economic basket case. I think the fact that he had to say this out loud says it all. We can marshall words, but we haven’t got any other ammunition.

November 16, 2010 8:20 am

That the French built thweir reactor with insufficient cooling capacity is hardly a problem we would replicate.
Japan manages.

As McZ points out, the UK is massivly over stocked in Fresh Water, theres just not been serious investment for more than half a century to allow tyhat to be stored and transported.

McZ again
“The most pessimistic Germans expect to be on 50% renewables by 2040 ”
Not going to happen.
The Danes tried and failed miserably, they had a much better shot than the Germans.
Giordon Brown expected to have abolished boom and bust. Expectations dont matter, just results.
Wind is much to unpredictable, tidal is much to uncontrollable, the only renewable worth considering is hydro, which the greenies are madly killing, because it doesnt conme with a big subsidy attached.

Nuclear waste isnt a problem either.
Even with no changes to reactors, we couldn just dump it into the marianas trench.
The better alternative is to build thorium reactors, the only reason we built current reactors in the first place is that they created plutonium, which we wanted for nuclear weapons.

Electric Cars arent a problem from the grids point of view, they would love them.

An electric car would be plugged in at night, and would need to be charged for the next morning, they could be set on frequency drop trip switches, so if the grid was struggling, the frequency drops, and the cars stop charging, they start trying to charge again 30 minutes later, and by that point, a new generator is brought on stream, or another load can be turned off.

Electric Cars are the easiest way we could go heavily nuclear.

November 16, 2010 1:48 pm

I thinks its more a matter of making sure your low end contributes at the high end.
The Leander should demonstrate that a “fighting ship on the cheap” is simply incapable of surviving on the fireing line. However, as you yourself suggested, a Bay with a few “combat” boats can do the piracey bit, and it can contribute, in its own way, to the high end as well.

Bit of an aside regarding a civillian coastguard.
Cost effective they would not be.
A fireman starts on about 20 and with two years on the job earns £27,000
A Police Officer starts on about 22 and will be on 35 after 10 years.

A Gun toting Coast Guard is unlikely to start on £12K a year like a solider…

Simon Wilson
Simon Wilson
November 16, 2010 2:16 pm

I have just watched the speech by Rupert Soames and I thought it was very insightful, but I think it’s not just Scotland who has to worry….

November 16, 2010 2:29 pm

Hey TD and Dom, did you mean to post these comments on my article ? :-)

Actually the topics are interlinked I suppose…….

Dom I have to take umbridge with: “The Leander should demonstrate that a “fighting ship on the cheap” is simply incapable of surviving on the fireing line” – really ? How were they incapable of surviving on the “firing line” ? I presume you have never served on one then ??

The Leander class where a superb piece of kit, bridging the WWII escorts to the modern world. I served on the “ultimate” Leander, a broad-beamed SeaWolf / Exocet upgrade. Big mast with 997/998 radar, and big sonar-dome for T2016 made them a bit frisky in high seas, but not exactly unstable. However the main thing is, there were lots of them, all starting out as ‘general purpose’ and although in those days they were certainly NOT designed or built to be ‘modular’ they morphed into Exocet armed, towed array tugs, and ASW specialists with Ikara. All modded to carry Lynx instead of Wasp. If they had a bunch of modern 40mm instead of Sea Cat they would have been superb all rounders. The difference now of course is that if we wanted to build 20 plus vessels of the same class, on a cheap and cheerful hull (or “sea frame” as the LCS crowd like to say), with Stanflex type arrangements for different focused weapons load outs, it would probably cost us a fortune.

In reality the modern Leander exists, we could buy them “off the shelf from the Danes” in the form of the Absalon flexible support ship. Highly successful pirate chasers, but 16 anti-ship missiles and 32 VLS anti-air / anti-missile, a 5 inch gun and two 35mm CIWS, and the ability to carry two large helo. Compared to a T45 they are cheap as chips, and they just show that other nations can still innovate in warship design, so why can’t we ?

November 16, 2010 3:45 pm

I believe so, serves me right for reading the comment and assuming its on the right thread.

And the wrong bloody ship as well!

November 16, 2010 5:21 pm


indeed the UK will see water surplus in areas, however the south-east will see a huge deficit during summer… your right, we have not got the infrastructure right to prepare for the effects as they come into force…nor do I think we have the money to invest in it…yet alone enhance sea/flood defences.

an interesting note is how the mid east will cope with high water stress… especially in and around Israel, and India and Pakistan (all nuclear armed). Water Security will be high on the agenda of certain nations in the future, but the Uk is safe from that… food wise, jury is out on that…the Uk would cope I think, but its another cause of potential clashes elsewhere.

Its just that everyone looks – and quite rightly so – at energy security – mostly as its the most direct impact feeling – especially fossil based, but what would the plan be for food and water security?
by 2050 the worlds population will be approx at 9 Billion… energy, food, water and even having enough space whilst trying to control the damage to the environment will be be an epic challenge as the years go on…and will bring clashes… lol this is a defence forum so waffling about green tech and plans aside… it would be interesting to see that report the MoD did about the potential flash-points of the near future and what it concludes/reccomends.

Somewhat Removed
November 16, 2010 6:18 pm


I think the softly-softly approach is extremely valid. A very good friend of mine has very recent experience of exactly this sort of mission with a Gulf country, and I’m strongly in favour of it. There are many nations that respect and aspire to the standards of the Royal Navy, and building links at the grass roots level will yield benefits in the long run, whilst keeping those nations open to future basing of assets in their areas for that ‘presence’ piece.

El Sid
El Sid
November 18, 2010 2:44 am

Just a few quick comments, trying to avoid which may have propmpted this article? since this is a subject I know a reasonable amount about and it’s late…

Admin – on the hi/lo thing there’s an interesting USN document from a while back (presumably about the time that they needed to think about replacing the Perrys) that looked into the hi/lo issue for the USN. They came to the conclusion that rather than having a dedicated “low” capability, they were better off sticking to one class of escort that could keep up with battlegroups, but rather than spend lots of money on upgrading every ship, just relegate them to convoy duty as they got older. Spreading R&D costs over lots of hulls was one part of the argument, even for the USN never mind the RN but ISTR that part of it was it was a better match for the way technology trickles down through opponents. We seem to be getting there with the SDSR apparently merging C1 and C2.

I wonder if part of the problem might be the way we talk about costs in the UK, would it be helpful to follow the US in saying that Daring cost £2.75bn and Dauntless et al cost £650m apiece? Might encourage more spiral development, fewer all-new hulls and less hangups about buying more of the same when they’re no longer “£1bn destroyers”.

Energy availability is a big concern for the US military, one of the main reasons for wanting CG(X) to be nuke powered was the availability and cost of oil in 2030 and beyond, they did studies that said for anything above ???15,000 tons it made economic sense let alone any strategic considerations. It’s also starting to be a big factor in land vehicles, purely because of the cost in blood and treasure of supplying the tanks and AFV’s along vulnerable supply lines in Iraq and ‘stan. Increasing fuel efficiency has a direct effect on the number of fuel convoys you need, so they’ve finally recognised fuel efficiency as a major strategic issue.

The RN has been less explicit about that kind of thing but there’s certainly one document in the public domain that talks about oil availability during the lifetime of the T45’s as being one reason for efficient electric drive.

People who advocate just one energy source are idiots – we’re going to need a bit of everything. The need for new nuclear is that even the political wing of CND recognised the need for it during the last government, although it took them a shameful length of time to actually do anything about it. Wind is actually quite predictable these days – at least on a 4 hour basis that you need to spin up other capacity – the trouble is that it’s not controllable. The National Grid have said that they’re quite comfortable with 20% renewable (in effect almost all wind) and have a plan to cope with up to 50% or so.

Wildly OT – I see that the F-35B has had an aluminium bulkhead crack at 10% of the expected fatigue life. The A and C use titanium in the same place, the B had an experimental aluminium one put in there during the redesign to reduce weight. It could be a minor bump, or it could be a major sticking point – aren’t you glad we haven’t bet the Navy on a couple of Cavours….?

El Sid
El Sid
November 18, 2010 6:39 pm

Even more wildly OT – the Russians reckon that China no longer needs them, the process of technology transfer is essentially complete. But not before they’ve sent “280 Su fighters” (all Flankers or does that include Fullbacks as well?) out east,plus all the J-10/11’s that are now being made indigenously….