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East Mediterranean critical for energy security, says US official (video)

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US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy Laura Lochman

The east Mediterranean is critical for energy security, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy Laura Lochman has told CNA, pointing out that through potential interconnections between Israel, Cyprus and Egypt gas could be supplied to Europe.

In an interview with CNA, Lochman, who paid Cyprus her first overseas visit since the assumption of her duties, spoke about the energy potential of the region, the work done in the framework of the 3+1 cooperation mechanism between Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the US, explained the reason behind US misgivings about the EastMed pipeline and outlined the US position on clean energy which includes, among other things, the operation of small nuclear facilities.

“I am thrilled to be here in the Republic of Cyprus today, this is my first trip overseas in my role as Deputy Assistant Secretary for energy diplomacy at the State Department,” she said.

She explained that “the reason I came to this part of the world is that the East Mediterranean is critical for energy security. Obviously, it is important for this part of Europe and also for the rest of Europe.”

“There is great potential here in this region in terms not only of the traditional hydrocarbon resources here but also for renewable resources” she said and pointed to plans that several of the governments have in the region for developing new technologies, including hydrogen and other clean energies, “so it is a very interesting mix here.”

According to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State “the need in Europe at this point is great due to the unprovoked and completely unjustified Russian invasion of Ukraine, or re-invasion of Ukraine and that has turned all of the markets topsy turvy.”

“Fortifying European energy security at this point is important from many perspectives and the East Mediterranean can be part of the solution,” she noted.

Replying to a question about the hike in energy prices due to the war in Ukraine and what she believes could be done to remedy it she said that “the hike in energy prices started even prior to the invasion in the Ukraine and part of the reason being that we were hoping to come out of our COVID economic downturn.”

“So, as the demand for energy started to rise the supply was a little bit lagging. Therefore, we had some price rises already. And then off course the invasion of Ukraine has just exacerbated that situation significantly,” she added.

So, she noted, “we are seeing across the board for all forms of energy a rise in price.”

This, she said, “is something that governments around the world, including ours, are paying much attention to, because we need to have affordable, reliable, accessible energy in order to continue to move out of the economic downturn and to recover from this COVID period, economically speaking, and to prosper.”

So, she continued, “we are doing what we can in this regard, accelerating the development of alternative forms of energy to hydrocarbons but at the same time trying to create a better balance between supply and demand in the median term for oil and gas.”

Replying to a question about discoveries in Cyprus’ EEZ and the role of Cyprus in helping Europe’s energy security, Lochman says that “we΄ll keep our fingers crossed that some of these discoveries and potential reserves here in Cyprus come to be and come to be commercialised so that the gas from the Cyprus area is integrated into the regional energy picture.”

“There is great potential for this region at large if you look at the reserves in Israel, in Egypt and then here as well,” she noted. According to the US official, “you could see where there could be a lot of connections made and that the gas that is developed in this region could not only supply the region but also move further into Europe, particularly southeastern Europe and alleviate the dependence on Russian hydrocarbons.”

Then off course, she added, “the development of solar energy, there is huge potential for solar here in Cyprus and then wind as well in the region, so it all is part of the mix that allows this region to be an energy powerhouse.”

Invited to say whether the US continues to have misgivings about the EastMed pipeline she explained that “there is certainly a need for immediate solutions to this imbalance between supply and demand for energy.”

From our perspective, she noted, “if you look at a very long, very deep water, expensive pipeline that would take between, we have heard estimates five to 12 years to develop, that would not be something that would be an immediate term or even a median term solution.”

So, she added, “if you need to get energy into the markets more immediately it seems to us that it would make more sense to take advantage of other options. Either existing infrastructure so that we would be getting gas for example through short interconnectors to Egypt and take advantage of the LNG facilities in Egypt to be able then to ship LNG to Europe, or it would be for electricity interconnectors and those could be generating power through gas at the beginning but then taking advantage of wind and solar renewable energies to produce the electricity.”

Invited to say what her view is of an LNG terminal in Cyprus she replied that “this would be a commercial decision based on the amount of gas that is discovered in Cyprus and whether it makes economic sense to do something like that or again to take advantage of existing infrastructure, so to ship the reserves and the energy found here to other parts of the region, for example in Egypt where there are existing terminals.”

Asked whether a pipeline from Cyprus to Egypt might make more sense, Lochman said “you could do a pipeline, take the gas from here to Egypt, or there could be an interconnector that somehow hooks up with the infrastructure in Israel that then goes to Egypt.”

“These will be commercial decisions that are made based on the dynamics of it,” she added.

Invited to say her view on reports that there have been behind the scenes talks between Turkey and Israel on a pipeline through Turkey, given Turkey’s provocative behaviour towards Cyprus and Greece, she replied that “from our perspective the fact that various players in the region are talking to one another about cooperating on energy security issues is fantastic. Any forum, any discussion that brings the partners together in cooperation on this front and for equitable sharing of benefits between the countries and the communities, that helps everything move forward.”

Asked whether she therefore believes such a move should include all the countries in the region she said that “the US would be supportive of cooperative efforts between two or more players in the region.”

“To have that cooperation happening among the countries in the region is to the benefit of energy security, economic security not only in this region but for the broader European region,” she added.

Replying to a question on what should be the next step in the framework of the 3+1 cooperation mechanism between Cyprus, Greece, Israel and the US Lochman replied: “we are very committed to this dialogue within that framework. It is very beneficial I think for all of us. So, we are committed to doing it at a higher level and then also through working groups.”

“One of the pillars of the dialogue is on energy. It is an obvious area of cooperation among us. We have an active schedule now of meetings under the energy pillar. We have hosted one in the US, Cyprus has hosted one, Greece will be hosting one in the next couple of months, and we will be doing another one in the next two – three months,” she added.

According to Lochman “it is a very significant schedule of meetings to talk about renewable energy, to talk about infrastructure and crisis management and emergency response and then cyber” security.

“All of these important aspects of energy are being discussed among us partners,” she added.

Asked whether an outcome is expected in the short term she replied that “right now, we have the experts putting their minds together on some of these issues so we hope that soon there will be some concrete outcomes from our cooperation.”

Replying to a question about the US position on clean energy Lochman pointed out that “the Biden administration has been very focused on the need to make this transition to cleaner forms of energy.”

You see that, she added, “on a lot of the policies this administration has put forward and we have seen it in the infrastructure bill for example passed from the US Congress recently.”

According to the US official “we are moving towards the cleaner energy scenario while at the same time paying attention to our immediate energy security needs. So, you have seen also that we are continuing to strengthen our capacity for oil and gas in the short term but while developing everything else, including solar, wind, hydrogen and nuclear as well.”

Particularly, she said, “in the form of small modular reactors, of smaller nuclear facilities that would be part of the mix. It’s emissions free energy.”

Asked whether such reactors would be located in the US she replied in the affirmative adding that “we are also working with international partners on this as well, including in Europe.”

Replying to a question about safety she said that “we have learnt a lot over the past decades in the nuclear industry and we are talking more at this point about small modular reactors which have an entirely different risk profile and obviously we would do it under the most stringent safety standards in cooperation with our industry in the US and our partners abroad. It could be a very important part of the mix for lowering emissions.”

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