While there is clear evidence of a current surge in renewable energy roll-out in the EU and renewed political ambition to speed up the energy transition, the campaign group Transport and Environment (T&E) carried out a study revealing how the bloc “is missing a historic opportunity to cut oil consumption and reduce the continent’s reliance on imports”.
1. New global oil map
T&E deems that trends in oil demand and sobriety measures seem to have been somehow overlooked as the EU is only redrawing the global oil map and replacing Russian imports with oil from partners like the US and Saudi Arabia and other less traditional suppliers like Brazil and Angola.
“In not much more than a year, the EU has redrawn the oil map. The continent has reduced its reliance on Russia, but instead of cutting oil consumption, it is simply swapping barrel for barrel with new suppliers. If it put the same effort into reducing demand as it has in finding new suppliers, Europe could significantly reduce its dependence on oil altogether,” said Agathe Bounfour, oil programme lead at T&E.
2. Seeking new suppliers
In January 2022, Russia accounted for 31% of European oil imports, a figure that dropped to 3% by March 2023, following varying sanctions. However, far from ditching oil, demand is simply being sourced from different suppliers, T&E exposed.
“The US replaced Russia as Europe’s number one exporter at the end of 2022, accounting for 11% of the EU imports. Norway and Saudi Arabia followed closely. Beyond Europe’s traditional suppliers, Angola’s monthly exports to the EU grew sixfold reaching almost six million barrels. The share of Brazilian and Iraqi exports also jumped,” T&E stated.
3. Increase in global production
Overall, increased European imports have coincided with an increase in global oil production and exports. Between 2021 and 2022, 70% of the surge in the US oil production was directed to the EU. T&E’s analysis of oil field data shows that 80% of the surge in oil exports to Europe came from only ten fields. The largest part of the export growth came from the Texas, followed by Norway’s biggest field Johan Sverdrup and Brazil’s Lula field.
While there is a wide consensus from scientists that developing new oil and gas projects is “incompatible” with the 1.5°C target reduction, new oil projects are still being planned globally and in the key countries supplying the EU. According to data on oil market forecasts from Stratas Advisors and the IEA, T&E has identified 18 different climate bombs which, as it stands, will be supplying Europe with oil at least until 2030. Those are the Buzios and Lula fields in Brazil, the Rumaila, West Qurna, Majnoon and Zubair fields in Iraq, the Troll and Johan Sverdrup fields in Norway, the Ghawar, Safaniyah, Khurais, Manifa, Shaybah, Zuluf, Khursaniyah, Marjan, Abqaiq and Harmaliyah fields in Saudi Arabia.
4. Hacking climate ambitions
According to another joint study led by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the oil and gas industries are using ‘carbon removals’ as a way to keep fossil fuels flowing, with failed carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), at the heart of their ‘net zero’ plans to distract and delay climate action. Despite the rhetoric, CEO says, CCUS does nothing for emissions reductions, but keeps society on the path to burning more fossil fuels.
If Europe achieves its current climate targets, in 2030 oil demand will drop by 16%. However, T&E’s modelling shows that the continent can reduce oil demand by a third through a combination of measures such as speeding up the electrification of road transport, implementing speed limits and reducing air traffic.
“Households have been told to lower their thermostats while the European Commission is advertising gas sobriety. The EU has a plan to cut gas consumption up to 2024. No such plans are in place for oil. With a combination of demand reduction and increased efficiency, Europe can slash its oil consumption by a third,” concluded Bounfour.