A single oil spill in Qatar could disrupt global energy supplies

A single oil spill in Qatar could disrupt global energy supplies

It has been quite a volatile few years for the world energy market. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the economy was rapidly collapsing after the COVID-19 lockdown and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine due to record spikes in the price of natural gas and oil prices reaching the highest level since 2008 last year.

Three locations in Qatar account for more than 20 percent of global liquefied natural gas exports. But these sites should be closely monitored, because if an oil spill were to occur, an even more serious energy crisis would emerge, according to a new study.

[Related: Yemen’s defunct oil tanker could set off a public health crisis.]

An international team of researchers published the study in the journal on 12 January Sustainability of Nature it shows the location of a “zone of high vulnerability” on the peninsula where an oil spill could shut down liquefied natural gas export facilities and desalination plants on the coast for several days.

To identify the vulnerable offshore areas of the Qatar Peninsula, the team used advanced numerical modeling to analyze data measured over the past five years on marine transport data, atmospheric circulation, ocean currents, waves, and bottom topographic map data. to reconcile the sea.

They concluded that a cessation of activity due to an oil spill in the most vulnerable area would almost certainly disrupt the global gas supply chain. One of the most vulnerable countries in the world to water shortages due to shutdowns caused by spills would experience significant water shortages. Qatar has used desalination to balance its limited groundwater supply for its growing population, but the process consumes a huge amount of energy.

An oil spill on this fuel-rich coast could be a supply chain disaster
A close-up view of the desalination and liquefied natural gas export infrastructure in Qatar. FRIENDS: Thomas Anselain, Essam Heggy, Thomas Dobbelaere, & Emmanuel Hanert

According to the team, awareness of these vulnerabilities is critical, especially since Qatar’s export capacity is expected to increase by approximately 64 percent over the next five years. As such, this key port will continue to be a critical location in the global energy supply chain. The increasing number of tanker incidents in the Gulf is also a concern, as these accidents can affect critical coastal infrastructure such as the desalination plants that need them.

[Related: What a key natural-gas pipeline has to do with the Russia-Ukraine crisis.]

The main oil spill risks, not the oil rigs in the north of the Peninsula, are tanker ships – one of which could carry enough energy to heat all of London for a week – traversing this area. The study found that Qatar would only have a few days to contain an oil spill before the slicks reached the country’s main liquefied gas export facility and desalination plant. A disruption or complete shutdown of the desalination plant for a day would force Qatar to rely on a small reserve of groundwater and increase liquefied natural gas prices.

To prevent the worst from happening, the study recommends increasing remote sensing in the most vulnerable areas of the Gulf with satellite and airborne imagery to increase warning times for spills and track how they develop.

The study argues that the current vulnerability to environmental hazards in the Middle East is largely underestimated. Threats to water resources due to climate change were listed as the biggest threat to Arab countries in the latest Arab Barometer Report, a survey of 26,000 people in 12 countries conducted from October 2021 to July 2022.

“Global containment of massive oil spills has always been challenging, but it is even more difficult in the shallow water of the Gulf where any intervention must account for the complex circulation currents, harsh operating environment, and presence of ecosystems highly sensitive. which three million people depend on for drinking water,” said co-author Essam Heggy of the University of Southern California’s Arid Water and Climate Research Center, in a statement. “I hope serious resources will be put into fixing this vulnerability.”

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