See full-size infographic for more legibility.
The Race for Arctic Domination
Note: see full-sized infographic for more legibility.
In the year 1776, James Cook was dispatched from Great Britain on an important mission: to discover the Northwest Passage. The famed hypothetical route from the Pacific to the Atlantic was a primary motivation for many British expeditions to the New World. Such a route would expedite trade between Europe and Asia, creating wealth for the kingdoms and merchants that could navigate it. The British government tried to motivate explorers even more by putting into law that there would be a prize of £20,000 for whoever could make such a discovery.
After spending some time in Hawaii, Cook came at it from the Pacific side. He and his crew searched northwards along the long coast of British Columbia, and eventually made his way in between Alaska and Russia through the Bering Strait. Seeing nothing but icebergs, it became clear that there was no navigable passage that could be seen.
For close to 300 years, explorers had searched for such a route, but ice and cold made it ultimately impossible for the technology of the day. Even Robert McClure, who was credited with the discovery of the Passage, got stuck in ice for three winters near Banks Island and had to be rescued.
Today, these routes through Northern waters have regained importance. Over recent decades, ice has thawed in the Arctic and 2008 became the first year that both the Northeast Passage (North of Russia) and the Northwest Passage (North of Canada) were open to ships simultaneously. This means it may be the first time that a vessel could theoretically circumnavigate the North Pole in 125,000 years.
Not surprisingly, countries such as Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States have taken notice and are posturing accordingly. The thawing waterways of the Arctic are the potential home to shipping routes, natural resources, and other territorial claims. For example, the US Geological Service estimates that the Arctic is home to 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, as well as 30% of its undiscovered natural gas.
However, nation-states are not the only group engaged in this Battle Royale. Environmentalists have also entered the ring, and they’ve already helped to deliver a solid takedown. In September 2015, Royal Dutch Shell announced that they would abandon their Arctic drilling campaign even after spending $7 billion on the well. Realistically, there were several reasons for the change of plans, but traction on behalf of environmentalists definitely played a key role.
While some experts are referring to this as a new Cold War (pun likely intended), the conquest for Arctic domination is certainly heating up.
Original graphic by: SCMP
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Who’s Still Buying Fossil Fuels From Russia?
Here are the top importers of Russian fossil fuels since the start of the war.
The Largest Importers of Russian Fossil Fuels Since the War
Despite looming sanctions and import bans, Russia exported $97.7 billion worth of fossil fuels in the first 100 days since its invasion of Ukraine, at an average of $977 million per day.
So, which fossil fuels are being exported by Russia, and who is importing these fuels?
The above infographic tracks the biggest importers of Russia’s fossil fuel exports during the first 100 days of the war based on data from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
In Demand: Russia’s Black Gold
The global energy market has seen several cyclical shocks over the last few years.
The gradual decline in upstream oil and gas investment followed by pandemic-induced production cuts led to a drop in supply, while people consumed more energy as economies reopened and winters got colder. Consequently, fossil fuel demand was rising even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which exacerbated the market shock.
Russia is the third-largest producer and second-largest exporter of crude oil. In the 100 days since the invasion, oil was by far Russia’s most valuable fossil fuel export, accounting for $48 billion or roughly half of the total export revenue.
|Fossil fuel||Revenue from exports (Feb 24 - June 4)||% of total Russian fossil fuel export revenue|
|Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)||$5.4B||5.5%|
While Russian crude oil is shipped on tankers, a network of pipelines transports Russian gas to Europe. In fact, Russia accounts for 41% of all natural gas imports to the EU, and some countries are almost exclusively dependent on Russian gas. Of the $25 billion exported in pipeline gas, 85% went to the EU.
The Top Importers of Russian Fossil Fuels
The EU bloc accounted for 61% of Russia’s fossil fuel export revenue during the 100-day period.
Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands—members of both the EU and NATO—were among the largest importers, with only China surpassing them.
|Country||Value of fossil fuel imports from Russia (Feb 24 - Jun 4)||% of Russian fossil fuel export revenue|
China overtook Germany as the largest importer, importing nearly 2 million barrels of discounted Russian oil per day in May—up 55% relative to a year ago. Similarly, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia as China’s largest oil supplier.
The biggest increase in imports came from India, buying 18% of all Russian oil exports during the 100-day period. A significant amount of the oil that goes to India is re-exported as refined products to the U.S. and Europe, which are trying to become independent of Russian imports.
Reducing Reliance on Russia
In response to the invasion of Ukraine, several countries have taken strict action against Russia through sanctions on exports, including fossil fuels.
The U.S. and Sweden have banned Russian fossil fuel imports entirely, with monthly import volumes down 100% and 99% in May relative to when the invasion began, respectively.
On a global scale, monthly fossil fuel import volumes from Russia were down 15% in May, an indication of the negative political sentiment surrounding the country.
It’s also worth noting that several European countries, including some of the largest importers over the 100-day period, have cut back on Russian fossil fuels. Besides the EU’s collective decision to reduce dependence on Russia, some countries have also refused the country’s ruble payment scheme, leading to a drop in imports.
The import curtailment is likely to continue. The EU recently adopted a sixth sanction package against Russia, placing a complete ban on all Russian seaborne crude oil products. The ban, which covers 90% of the EU’s oil imports from Russia, will likely realize its full impact after a six-to-eight month period that permits the execution of existing contracts.
While the EU is phasing out Russian oil, several European countries are heavily reliant on Russian gas. A full-fledged boycott on Russia’s fossil fuels would also hurt the European economy—therefore, the phase-out will likely be gradual, and subject to the changing geopolitical environment.
How Affordable is Gas in Latin America?
This graphic looks at gas affordability in Latin America, showing how much a liter of gas costs in 19 countries, relative to average incomes.
How Affordable is Gas in Latin America?
As gas prices have risen around the world, not each region and country is impacted equally.
Globally, the average price for a liter of gas was $1.44 USD on June 13, 2022.
But the actual price at the pump, and how affordable that price is for residents, varies greatly from country to country. This is especially true in Latin America, a region widely regarded as one of the world’s most unequal regions in terms of its income and resource distribution.
Using monthly data from GlobalPetrolPrices.com as of May 2022, this graphic by Latinometrics compares gas affordability in different countries across Latin America.
Gas Affordability in 19 Different Latin American Countries
To measure gas affordability, Latinometrics took the price of a liter of gas in 19 different Latin American countries and territories, and divided those figures by each country’s average daily income, using salary data from Statista.
Out of the 19 regions included in the dataset, Venezuela has the most affordable gas on the list. In Venezuela, a liter of gas is equivalent to roughly 1.3% of the country’s average daily income.
|Country||Gas price as of May 2022 (USD)||% of average daily income|
|🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||$1.41||12.6%|
|🇸🇻 El Salvador||$1.14||9.2%|
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||$1.42||5.9%|
|🇵🇷 Puerto Rico||$1.35||2.2%|
This isn’t too surprising, as Venezuela is home to the largest share of proven oil reserves in the world. However, it’s worth noting that international sanctions against Venezuelan oil, largely because of political corruption, have hampered the once prosperous sector in the country.
On the other end of the spectrum, Nicaragua has the least affordable gas on the list, with one liter of gas costing 14% of the average daily income in the country.
Historically, the Nicaraguan government has not regulated gas prices in the country, but in light of the current global energy crisis triggered in large part by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the government has stepped in to help control the situation.
As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues with no end in sight, it’ll be interesting to see where prices are at in the next few months.
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