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Choosing Iran’s Next Leader
(and what it means for natural gas)
Steve LeVine, The Oil and the Glory, Business Week
Does Mir Hossain Mousavi have a genuine chance to defeat Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Friday’s elections? Or is he simply the latest beneficiary of the predilection of reporters and pundits to make a wishful-embrace of electoral challengers in dictatorial nations?

At O&G, we are closely watching the first round of Iran’s presidential election because of the potential game-changing impact on natural gas politics in Europe: At once, a less populist leadership in Tehran could help lower the diplomatic temperature, thus opening the door to genuine talks with Washington, and possibly a deal that, among other benefits, ultimately unfetters the development of Iran’s sanctions-crippled natural gas fields.

A string of reports over the last 10 days or two weeks has built up much expectation around Mousavi, a 67-year-old ethnic Azeri intellectual who served as a revolution-enabling prime minister two decades ago.

In The New York Times today, Robert Worth describes a “screaming, honking bacchanal” at night in Tehran surrounding Mousavi’s campaign, and a poll suggesting a 54%-39% edge over Ahmadinejad.

The key moment that has electrified observers is last Wednesday’s televised debate between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Reports are drubbing Ahmadinejad for attacking Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, who is campaigning for her husband and held a high-profile news conference at which she demanded an apology from Ahmadinejad. CNN reports that some have dubbed Rahnavard “Iran’s Michelle Obama.” At the Impudent Observer, Fred Stopsky wonders whether Rahnavard is “the secret weapon to unseat Ahmadinejad.”
(8 June 2009)
Steve LeVine is an Energy Bulletin contributor.

Europe’s pipeline politics

Vafa Fakhri, BBC Azeri Service
On the shores of the Baltic Sea, among the sea birds and sand dunes, a quiet energy revolution is taking place.

If all goes to plan, the island of Ruegen, off the coast of Northern Germany, will host the terminal for the massive new Nord Stream gas pipeline connecting Russia with the heart of Western Europe.

After years of unstable relations between Moscow and its former satellite states, Nord Stream is designed to circumvent regional politics by cutting out transit countries.

If it wins final approval, the 1200km (745 mile) pipeline will run under the Baltic Sea from the Russian port of Vyborg.

It could mark a significant change in Europe’s energy security.

At present, 80% of Russian gas delivered to the EU has to cross Ukraine.

In the past three years, disputes between Russia and its neighbour over gas prices have led to occasional shutdowns of supplies to much of Europe for weeks, causing severe shortages for millions.
(7 June 2009)
Suggested by Larry Hughes.

Energy fuels new ‘Great Game’ in Europe

Richard Galpin, BBC
The giant Russian energy company, Gazprom, which controls the world’s largest reserves of natural gas, has issued a stark warning to the European Union saying it must decide if it wants to continue receiving supplies of Russian gas.

Speaking in an interview for the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev warned that Europe was now at a crossroads.

“Only three countries can be suppliers of pipeline gas in the long-term – Russia, Iran and Qatar. So there is no other choice than to deal with these suppliers,” he said.

“Europe should decide how to handle this situation… and if Europe doesn’t need our gas, then we will find a way of selling it differently.”

The threat comes as the EU scrambles to find alternative energy suppliers following the crisis in January, when Russia shut down the main pipeline into Europe for two weeks in a price dispute with the key transit country, Ukraine.

The EU currently relies on Russia for a quarter of its total gas supplies. Of the bloc’s 27 member states, seven are almost totally dependent on Russian gas.
(9 June 2009)