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The Risks of Europe’s Aging Energy Network were Exposed


There was an explosion at a natural gas switching station in December 2017 at the eastern reaches of Austria. This explosion killed a worker and injured several others and this sent shockwaves through the energy supply infrastructures in Europe.
 
The blast that happened in Baumgarten – a small village bordering Slovakia – generated so much fireball that plastic on cars over half a kilometer away was melted. The wholesale price of gas rose by 23% and this was as a result of the fact that up to 10% of Europe’s gas needs pass through that station. That was the highest price witnessed in over 4 years. Walter Hansie, 88 recalled that he rushed out and stood in front of his grandson’s tractor, which was about one kilometer away and saw a fireball rising in the air. He noted that he had never seen anything like that.
 
The fragile nature of Europe’s energy infrastructure was laid bare by the Baumgarten explosion. Just a couple of hours earlier a very thin crack (not thicker than a hair) and not longer than a hand either was responsible for the shutdown of the Forties Pipeline. This pipeline system was a web of majorly undersea pipes that transport crude from platforms in the North Sea. Also, the deteriorating state of the pipelines of the gas storage site has made it impossible to continue to operate for safety reasons.
 
Majority of the gas infrastructure in Europe was built between the 1960s and the 1980s and this was the period when the Soviet Union began tapping Siberian fields to pump supplies towards the west in exchange for hard currency. Those facilities have to be maintained as well, just like any other appliance of gadget. For this reason, the growing demand for energy means those facilities will also suffer wear and tear. With the current low prices of the crude oil commodity, replacing those facilities seems a little unrealistic and it is only natural that we expect to see more of these occurrences.
 
A consultant at Lloyd’s Register, James Drummond noted that it is a very challenging task to manage anything that is capital intensive and as time passes on, the challenges change and more often than not, they increase.
 
Although there have been efforts by the oil and gas industry to mitigate risks through the use of technology to extend the useful life of equipment, the government of the United Kingdom categorically stated that majority of the equipment in the North Sea have out lived their projected lifespan. The EU has noted that the bloc’s energy infrastructure will not be able to cater to future demands and the gas and power network still needs investments of about 210 billion Euros ($247).
 
The Forties system, which commenced operations in the 1970s is capable of transporting up to 500,000 barrels of crude from 80 different fields in just one day. The network operator, Ineos AG noted that the problems might likely have occurred because the pipeline abutted a rock. Some others are of the opinion that the problem likely arose as a result of a crack and not a more typical corrosion.
 
Tom Crotty, the director of Ineos told Bloomberg TV that the network started in 1975 therefore, it is important that these networks be maintained. He also noted that they have to make the repairs as quick as possible because they are loosing significant income. Dating to 1983, in a depleted reservoir was the Rough storage facility, which depended on a network of pipes to inject and withdraw gas stored for winter. Centrica PLC which is the unit operator initiated a series of shutdowns for as a result of the steel cases that hold gas and prevent them from leaking out has deteriorated significantly. This is supposed to enable them effect repairs.
 
The Rough is deemed important to the UK’s energy security because it is the only long-term storage site in the UK. That said, the facility was closed for good as a result of the fact that needed up to $100 million for repairs.
 
A few hours after the explosion in Baumgarten, emergency workers started still swarming the gas hub. Smoking debris was rounded by the police and fire engines kept rushing along the narrow road that led to the site being nestled amidst bucolic fields of grain. The fire superintendent couldn’t understand what happened.
 
The founder of Petroleum Development Consultants in London, David Aron, stated that the Baumgarten facility, which opened in 1959, is coming under severe stress built up over time. Consumers will definitely crank up the thermostat this winter period leading to increased demands and this was why the pumping station was always likely to give in.
 
Aaron said, what is involved here is highly inflammable and pipelines will always be vulnerable. The Baumgarten pipelines are most likely withstanding as much pressure as it can.