Written by Dmitry Medvedev
What’s Really Going On With Russia?
For the mere mortals among us, it’s hard to determine exactly what’s going on with Trump and Russia. To get the bottom of things, it may help to look at the backstory. There’s no denying that Russia and America have had a rocky road in the past. While things have always been a little strained, we did manage to find some level of calm. But, a NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 put a chilly slant on things. Add in one Vladimir Putin (elected in 2000), and you have an ice age on your hands.
But, what have the main issues been? Well, let’s be honest, the cold war got a little…cold. That did nothing to strengthen the relationship. Aside from that, the arguments between our countries come from a direct split in ideologies. Capitalism and communism don’t get on for obvious reasons. Add in the fact that the U.S. and Russia are some of the largest nuclear countries in the world, and you have a real conflict. Perhaps, for world peace, it would be best if we all ‘got along’, but our differing approaches only fuels the fire more.
But then, along came Trump. Despite other negative connotations to his presidency, he did at least seem willing to solve the Russia/U.S. split. In fact, during his election campaign, Trump heralded Putin as ‘very smart’, and gave every indication that he would treat Russia as an ally. He even tried to turn attention from Russia during the election hacking scandal.
Of course, the good times didn’t last long. We now find ourselves in a position where relations are more strained than ever. Given where we’ve been in the past, that’s hard to believe. But, the relationship has spiralled, perhaps in part due to the possibility that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. So, where did things go wrong? To get to the root of the rift, we need to revisit April 4th, when Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was allegedly responsible for dropping chemical weapons on his people. Chemical weapons which Russia had removed.
In an arguably rash counter attack, Trump ordered the dropping of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. It’s not hard to see, then, why things deteriorated so fast. Overnight, Trump and Putin went from the perfect pair to bitter enemies. And, for some, the change was too subtle to keep on top of. But, rest assured, the old order has been restored when it comes to our relationship with Russia.
So, where are we now? Recently, political figures such as Idaho’s senator, Mike Crapo, have been pushing hard for new Russian sanctions. The new bill, signed by a grudging Trump on the 2nd of this month, makes it harder for him to lift the sanctions if he wishes.
Trump’s reluctance seemed to come about due to remaining hopes of reestablishing relations with Russia. While that seems unlikely, the bill will ensure we can at least hold some level of control over what Russia does overseas.
Media Rhetoric: Era of Corrupting Public Opinion for Clicks
In the age of mass media and information society, political rhetoric is thriving. Back in the days, political power could not possibly reach all the corners of one country (especially in case of an immense territory), whereas it is easily done across the borders. The only possible obstacle is another man’s rhetoric.
So, what do we see now? More and more headlines willing to go as catchy as possible. How is a person being swallowed into this? The purpose of this article is not to dwell upon freedom of speech. However, it tries to put into perspective the influence that the current media has on a person (using the example of today’s media rhetoric).
In the 90s, when Soviet Union, one of the most powerful countries collapsed, media all around the world immediately changed its attitude towards it. This change of attitude was noticeable even among the public, watching it. Yet, this rather indulgent political discourse was transforming along with the development of Russia. During that time, Russia was not viewed as a threat, but rather as one among many. Today, after more than twenty years, the situation is different. Portrayed as an expanding empire, this image makes a lot of money on the front pages.
If you had a chance to go through the Western media, for sure you would find yourself thinking about it. To begin with, after reading you will probably think that Russia is indeed quite bad. Surprisingly, this has nothing to do whether you agree or not. Rather, this has to do with your sub consciousness. Strong negative language first addresses emotions, only later it is processed by our mind. Afterwards, you may use other sources, but surprisingly other sources sound rather the same. So here is a question: Would you consider turning to a Russian source when everyone else is saying differently? Or better question, would you even consider another opinion in the situation?
On the one hand, the negative image is being constructed for a long time. “Bad boy Putin won’t find friends at G20 summit” (torontosun.com), “How Vladimir Putin became evil” (theguardian.com), “West faces up to Putin aggression” (bbc.com) etc. Along with these headlines, there are high officials who insist on further sanctions against Russia; there are decisions taken to suspend the country from G8, limit its abilities at the PACE and so on. On the other hand, economic relations are actually getting stronger (forbes) . Many European producers, exporters, businessmen are actually against sanctions. Simply, they are no good for the business (the Guardian).
This kind of blaming rhetoric is similar in Russia itself. Of course, it targets the West in return.
As a result, we see rhetoric of finger-pointing. The countries are demonizing each other according to the principle “we are good – they are bad”. This kind of strategy aims to form certain opinion of another country and stirs up enmity. This strategy is another form of geopolitical influence that is used by the governments.
It should be noticed that when referring to Russian sources (not just media, but also politicians and government officials), it is widely accepted that these sources are not reliable or trustable. They are corrupted; hence they should not be taken into account. So, does it mean that another point of view is not taken into account as well? I would draw your attention to the question why European rhetoric is believed to be more trustable than any other’s.
During twentieth century, the West had become the main documenter of historical events, from the World War I to the Cold War. Of course, it did represent the events that actually happened, yet we should stress what kinds of things were highlighted in this narration. The West pays attention to what it is important for the West. There is nothing wrong in this; this is simply the way how humans express their opinions. But other countries tell their stories too. Rejecting their point of view means staying in the nutshell. Just because it is not delivered by stronger power does not necessarily mean that it is a wrong opinion.
For example, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (Nazi-Soviet neutrality pact) is usually condemned nowadays. In contrast, Europe does not bring up the Munich Agreement of 1938, which permits Germany to annex portions of Czechoslovakia, which was signed by France, Italy and the United Kingdom, the major powers of Europe.
Other notions are also created and moved forward by the West. The term of “cold war”, first appeared in Orwell’s Animal Farm, was later picked up by Walter Lippmann in 1947. Now the period of US-Soviet tension is referred in this way.
This rhetoric has power to reach out anyone in the world that makes it a little bit frightening. It became dominant rhetoric too, developed and imposed by strong counsttries. This discourse easily leads to false stereotypes about international relations.
In this sense, everything that happens outside of Europe, e.g. the conflicts in the Middle East, remain in the periphery and do not influence the main course of events. But for those countries who are actually involved into the conflict, the conflict occupies the central place. In humanities, this is called textualization of reality, which means interpretation of events. So far, textual ethnocentrism of the West is very strong because of its power. As Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by the victors”. It will never get old.
One of the examples of this Western dominance would be terrorist attacks in Belgium and France. Similar and even worse attacks in the Middle East did not draw as much attention as it did with European ones . In the previous century, the description of events was more spontaneous (the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945). Today it is more well-directed and oriented by power interests.
This leads to certain public opinion all around the world. As a result, powerful countries are getting political and economic benefits, making international agreements that are more beneficial for the West (See Artic Sunrise Case).
Yet, democratic demagogy is vulnerable and easily shaken. For example, it has been years but Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan are still not democratic, regardless of US attempts. Europe is being weak in the light of the “Eastern Front”, meaning that Eastern countries are turning out to be not particularly democratic. If Serbia and especially Turkey enter the European Union, what is left of democracy and euro-identity?
Every power pursues its interest. Every power has its own agenda. By using electronic or paper means, available to them, they strive to achieve what’s best for their country. An ordinarily person has to be aware of this and restrain himself/herself from immediate joining to the finger-pointing discourse. Two heads are better than one. Even if another head is believed to be evil.
Author’s note: This article does not aim to finger-point any party, rather it questions trust in media. The West/Russia are taken as an example because there are more sources available (and because I haven’t learnt exotic language yet 😀 ).
I would appreciate people from countries other than Europe expressing their opinions (below in the comments) about their media/officials, interpreting different events.
 If you are interested how the events are interpreted and talked about, read more about Rwandan Genocide. Particularly, the way media and officials addressed the events of 1994.
Associated Petroleum Gas Flaring: The Problem and Possible Solution
Nowadays, the problem of energy efficiency and energy saving stands in the forefront of the global agenda. Each of us is engaged in the process of conserving resources. We save electricity by installing high-efficient LED lamps, power production companies purchase new generation equipment in order to increase the coefficient of performance of the plants and engineers are continuously working to make fuel consumption in our cars more effective. However, have you ever thought how much of these natural resources is wasted without any use? In this article I will try to cover the problem of associated petroleum gas flaring.
I am sure everyone knows that natural gas is one of the major energy sources. Associated petroleum gas (APG), or associated gas, is a form of natural gas as well. It is found with deposits of petroleum, either dissolved in the oil or as a free “gas cap” above the oil in the reservoir under high pressure reservoir conditions (1). When oil is extracted, the pressure decreases and associated gas separates from the oil. However, traditionally this gas is considered as a waste product and is simply burnt off in gas flares. This process is called flaring and when it occurs this gas is referred to as flare gas. Taking example of Russia, which is one of the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, currently for each tonne of oil produced in Russia about 150 cubic metre of associated gas is released and this value is rising each year (2). This situation can be explained by the fact that oil production in Russia is moving to the east and north of the country. In such regions average gas/oil ratio is higher than in traditional production regions and can reach several hundred cubic meters per tonne of oil.
However, not all amount of APG is flared. Major share, that is 60% approximately, is sent from the oil field to gas processing plants and to other consumers. APG is usually separated to stripped gas (methane, or general natural gas) and NGL (natural gas liquids, which commonly consist of propane, butane and other heavy gas fractions). Further, natural gas can be used for wide range of needs, while NGL is commonly used as a raw material in chemical industry.
In Russia NGL is usually purchased by chemical companies for polyethylene and polypropylene production. 22% Of associated gas is used for oil field’s own needs, that includes utilizing APG for electricity and heat generation in steam or gas turbine power plants, and pumping APG to the reservoir in order to support extraction pressure. Also, associated gas can be used for synthetic fuel production on site via GTL (Gas-To-Liquid) conversion, however, there is almost no experience of this method application in Russia so far. Finally, 17% of APG is flared, and losses accounts for remaining 1% (2).
It should be taken into the consideration, that these figures are average among Russia and regions around it. In some states APG efficient use is almost equal to 100%, while in others it barely exceeds 50% (3). Low APG utilization levels are observed in the oil fields that are situated in remote underpopulated areas with severe climate and weather conditions. In such regions APG transporting from the field is very expensive and does not pay back. The use of associated gas for oil field’s own needs is limited. The main problem is that APG extraction is not constant, its variation is significant during the project lifetime, and coefficient of performance and other parameters of power plants are usually low at part loads. Furthermore, expensive gas pre-treatment facility must be installed in order to purify APG from sulphur, nitrogen and other harmful compounds. Such investment also can be unsustainable for medium and small scale oil production facilities. So, these factors causes flaring of significant APG amount without any use.
It is worth noting, that today efficient associated petroleum gas utilization level is rising every year in the country (2). Nevertheless, Russian Federation still takes the first place in the world in terms of gas flaring according to Worldbank. Each year Russian oil extraction industry flares up to 17 billion cubic meters of APG according to official Russian statistics (2). In order to show you how significant this value is, I would like to note that this can be compared to annual natural gas consumption of a typical European country. However, Worldbank estimates total gas flaring in Russia (what is mainly associated gas flaring) at much higher value: 35 billion cubic meters annually (4).
Associated gas flaring is not only a huge resource waste. It causes water, soil, air, and thermal pollution in the neighbourhood. When APG is utilized at flare facility about 10% of its value is vented directly into the atmosphere. As methane (the major component of APG) has global warming potential (GWP) coefficient 21 times more than CO2 (5), such 10% vented volume accounts for greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to CO2 emissions from remaining 90% of APG burned completely. On the basis of official Russian statistics on APG flaring in 2014, it can be estimated that flaring in Russia accounts for 30 million tonnes of annual CO2 emissions. This value can be compared to the total CO2 emissions generated annually by an entire European country such as Sweden or Norway. Among the emissions, apart from methane leaks and CO2, harmful components such as sulphur, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, soot, benzyl, phosgene, toluene, heavy metals (mercury, arsenic, chrome), sulphuric anhydrite, and others are also present (6).
But how can we deal with such enormous resource waste? Is there any possibility to avoid loosing precious natural resource?
Firstly, I would like to discuss current situation in oil and gas production in Russia. Today as I already noticed oil and gas production shifts to the north and east of the country, to Western Siberia and Far East, and new exploration fields are mainly medium or small. Traditionally, such oil fields are supplied with energy from diesel generators. However, the fuel is usually very hard to deliver in remote areas. For example, in many regions helicopter is the only one mean of transportation. Hence, diesel fuel cost rises up to several times during the delivery process. This situation calls for the need of reliable energy generation methods using available local fuels. In this respect, APG would be a very attractive source of energy.
If we take into account high gas-oil ratio in new exploration regions, it turns out that electricity production from APG from turbines exceed power consumption value by several times. Such energy excess is hard to utilize in remote areas. Moreover, this methods does not solve the problem of fuel supply for vehicles that are working continuously on the field. Good option could be the use of associated gas partly for electricity production and partly for other needs. After conducting analysis of different APG utilization methods, it was concluded, that GTL conversion plant can be good solution for effective associated gas utilization in remote areas on small and medium scale facilities. What is special about GTL method is the possibility to use heat of the conversion reaction to produce electricity, which covers own needs of the plant and oil field’s as well. Also, significant amount of synthetic liquid hydrocarbons is produced. Part of it can be used for high quality diesel fuel generation which can be further consumed by cars and other vehicles in the oil field. The remaining can be mixed with recovered oil and send to the pipeline. This is very attractive method, don’t you think so? But there has to be catch. Why this solution is not applied at Russian oil fields? The answer is simple: no experience of implementing this technology and high capital and operating investments. Although today modern small scale GTL cost effective technologies have started to appear and surely they will play important role in solving the problem of gas flaring.
I hope that in the future we would utilize finite natural sources more carefully and the term «gas flaring» will remain only as an relic of the past.
1. Glossary of Terms Used in Petroleum Reserves/Resources Definitions. – 14 p. – http://www.spe.org/industry/docs/GlossaryPetroleumReserves-ResourcesDefinitions_2005.pdf.
2. Российский статистический ежегодник 2015. [Russian Statistical Yearbook 2015]. – 728 p. – http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/doc_2015/year/ejegod-15.pdf
3. Регионы России. Социально-экономические показатели. [Regions of Russia. Socio-economic Indicators]. – 1266 p. – http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/doc_2015/region/reg-pok15.pdf.
4. Worldbank. Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) Top 20 gas flaring countries. – http://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/Programs/GGFR%20Presentation%20March%202015.pdf
5. Climate Change 1995, The Science of Climate Change: Summary for Policymakers and Technical Summary of the Working Group I Report. – 572 p. – https://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sar/wg_I/ipcc_sar_wg_I_full_report.pdf.
6. Попутный нефтяной газ в России: «Сжигать нельзя, перерабатывать!» [Associated Petroleum Gas in Russia: «Do not Flare, Utilize!»]. – 88 p. – https://www.wwf.ru/data/pub/oil/wwf_png_net_corrected.pdf.
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