2 March 2022: Covid & Putin; The good and bad of Galician granite; Local buses; Alt Energy: English; & Other stuff

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Covid 

If Putin’s attitudes and actions really are the result of 2 years’ isolation, the bloody virus was far more significant than ever we thought. And even more fatal.  

Camino News

On our 2nd day yesterday we saw even fewer fellow ‘pilgrims’. None in fact, even though we set out 4 hours earlier. What we did see was plenty of both Galicia’s beauty and its ugliness.

There are 2 things you can’t escape from in Galicia – granite and water. The latter is always pretty, as here, but not so the granite:-

As for said granite, I’m really talking about the stone used for buildings, not the ubiquitous substratum of this region. This comes in 2 basic forms – Mampostería: Translated as: Masonry or rubble work And Sillaria: Translated as ‘ashlar’ or: Masonry made of large square-cut stones, used as a facing on walls of brick or stone rubble.

Mampostería is more appealing and looks like this.-

And here’s what sillería looks like:-

You can sometimes find examples of both stones only a metre or so apart, eg on either side of the narrow camino trail.

And here’s a house where they couldn’t make up their minds which stone to use:-

Finally, the best/worst example of something done with an eye to economy, I guess:-

And something that made me smile . . . The entrance to a place called The Meadow, behind which were ugly metal huts:-

Ending on a high . . . an example of one of our many beautiful Casas Rurales/B&B’s:-

Cosas de España/Galiza

Our camino was, in fact, rained off and we tried to return by bus to Pontevedra but discovered 2 things about the timetable for the only company operating a service between Santiago de Compostela and Pontevedra:-

  1. If you enter Spanish names on their web page, you get told there’s no service. So, instead of La Coruña, you have to put A Coruña. And for Esclavitud, you have to enter Escravitude.
  2. Worse, the web page is inaccurate. It said a bus would stop where we wanted to get on but neither of the 2 buses which arrived at the time stated were going to where the web page said they were. And a local lady told us we’d have to wait almost 2 hours for one which did. Or might . . .

So, before taking a taxi, we had a chance to look at the church in Esclavitud/Escravitude and this is its altar, in the usual OTT Baroque style:-

We also learned the reason for the village’s odd name (‘Slavery’) but I will keep that for tomorrow. Meanwhile . . .

The EU/The West

AEP writes below on alternative energy sources, meaning reduced dependence on Russia. If the German Greens can swallow nuclear reactors for the immediate cause of Western democracy, he writes, who can baulk at compromise?  We are at war.

Germany

Outrage at the invasion of Ukraine is growing as supermarkets banish Russian vodka from their shelves and the entire office staff of the former chancellor Gerhard Schröder quit in protest at his refusal to step down from lucrative posts in the Russian energy industry.

Quotes of the Day

Both rom Russia:-

These fake news items demoralise society and undermine faith in the army and the security services, Vasily Piskarev, an MP with Putin’s ruling party, said. He added that Russia’s military was “maintaining peace” in Ukraine.

“The aim of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine is to prevent a global war. Russia’s actions are, in essence, anti-war,” Dmitry Kiselyov, a prominent television presenter, told viewers on Sunday. Olga Skabeeva, another television presenter, said today that the “chaos, panic and mayhem” in Kyiv was being caused by “criminals with weapons”.

English

I got an email yesterday which said ‘We have strived . . ‘. The correct past participle is, of course, ‘striven’. But this is English, and so the mistake will cease to be a mistake over time. There’s no academy to castigate/resist the (surely)young woman who wrote it.

Finally . . .

More internet wisdom:-

For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.

THE ARTICLE   

It is time to drop an economic cluster bomb on the Kremlin. Cutting off Russian gas supplies puts fracking back on the table: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph

Vladimir Putin’s terror tactics and alleged shelling of civilians in Kharkiv with cluster munitions force us to move up the escalation ladder. We should respond with an economic cluster bomb of symmetric ferocity.  

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says the West should cap imports of Russian gas, oil, and coal, one reason why the Kremlin has singled her out for particular abuse. 

The other reason is the under-appreciated and invaluable role of British military forces over recent months in helping to prepare the Ukrainian army for the onslaught. Equally under-appreciated is the UK’s willingness to extend its formidable capability in cyberwarfare deterrence to all of European Nato.

The European Parliament will vote today on a comparable motion targeting energy, with a call to “use all possible gas depositories in order to ensure uninterrupted gas supply to the EU.” That implies fracking. 

I suspect that fast-moving events will lead to a total cut-off of every molecule of Russian hydrocarbons. It is no longer tenable for the West to drag this out as the slaughter unfolds: “if not now, when?” said Helima Croft from RBC Capital Markets.

The democracies have the means to muddle through provided we invoke national security powers over energy supply. But be under no illusions, and be wary of triumphalism just five days into the war. Russia has barely begun to deploy its military might. 

Fiona Hill, former Russia security guru at the White House, said Putin will retaliate in any way he can. He will not hesitate to bring the whole world crashing down with him, even to the point of nuclear Götterdämmerung. If you think he won’t do it, “yes, he will”, she said.

We are playing strategic poker for exorbitant stakes. The cynical Putin of the past was one thing: the millenarian emotional Putin of today is quite another. Russia remains a full-spectrum commodity superpower with influence over the supply chain for critical minerals as well as energy. We must expect him to exploit that leverage.  

However, the calculated gamble is that Moscow’s military and intelligence elites will precipitate a palace coup to stop him, once the price for Russia is high enough. One thing we all learned from his humiliation of the Russian security council – compelling them to dip their hands in Ukrainian blood on television, nolens volens – is how brittle his regime has become.

The sanctions against the Russian central bank agreed last weekend, after markets laughed off the original token measures, are already devastating for the financial system.

Governor Elvira Nabiullina, emerged in funereal black to tell the nation that a large part of the country’s $635bn foreign exchange reserves is henceforth unusable, either for rouble defence or to help banks and companies cover their dollar and euro liabilities.

But crippling the financial system is not enough. Putin can continue day to day operations with a revenue stream from hydrocarbons. Oil accounts for the lion’s share. 

Russia’s “heavy” Urals crude is not fully fungible on the global market. The Kremlin cannot easily switch to other buyers. It exports 4.3 million barrels a day (b/d), mostly to Europe.

Much of this is sold to refineries for diesel. It sells Europe a further 1.6m b/d of petroleum products such as aviation and shipping fuel. The US currently absorbs 700,000 b/d of Urals to replace heavy Venezuelan crude in its refineries. 

Sanctions against tanker owners and insurers could make Urals crude almost unmovable in Western waters. Russian exports cannot easily be switched to China, even assuming that the Chinese are willing to soak up the diverted barrels, which would amount to political endorsement of an invasion turning into a public relations disaster for the axis of autocracies.

We should not underestimate the havoc caused to the global crude market (100 million b/d) by the sudden loss of Russian barrels. It would be akin to the Opec embargo in 1973.

Washington would have to read the riot act to Saudi Arabia and Gulf petrostates, letting it be known that there will be unpalatable strategic consequences if they continue to withhold crude supplies in a crisis market.

Muddling through would require a temporary 55 mph/ 90 km speed limit across the West, with flight rationing (sorry airlines), and slower shipping speeds.

Oil would probably spike well above $150 but nothing cures high prices like high prices. Demand destruction would do its time-honoured work, as would the recessionary shock. Agile frackers in the Permian Basin would come back fast at triple-digit crude levels. US shale alone could cover a quarter of the Russian loss by the end of the year.

However, Europe has ample capacity for imports of seaborne liquefied natural gas, though not always in the right spot. It can bring in roughly 250 billion cubic metres (bcm), more than total Russian sales to Europe of 155 bcm.

Alan Riley, a professor of energy law at the Atlantic Council, said the US federal government has the power, in extremis, to force its LNG companies to redirect all gas shipments to Europe in a maritime version of the Berlin Airlift. 

The UK would play a critical role, rescuing Germany by mobilising its three large LNG plants to pump 20 bcm of gas through two interconnectors across the Channel. The interconnector skirmishing during Brexit seems a distant memory. We are one band of democratic brothers now.  

Full mobilisation of global LNG would come close to nullifying Putin’s gas weapon for the rest of this winter. Europe can get by until late April. Several weeks of mild weather and good wind have slowed the depletion rate of inventories enough to avert the worst.  

The imperative is to rebuild stocks over the low-demand months. Brussels is pushing for extra storage capacity in each country along the lines of Italy’s strategic gas reserve. The UK has no storage worth the name after closing Rough in 2018. The Government must remedy this weakness immediately.

Germany has shifted gears. The coalition has agreed to build its first two LNG terminals. The Greens – born out of anti-nuclear protest – have signalled that they may let the country keep its last three nuclear reactors open beyond December, and even to delay the phase-out from coal.

The Dutch are keeping the Groningen gas fields going for longer, doubling output this year.

Should the UK lift the fracking moratorium and invoke national security powers to revive drilling this year in the rich Bowland Basin? It is not an easy question. The UK still holds the presidency of COP26. What is needed today may be viewed as a retrograde in five years. 

On strict climate grounds, the objections are overstated. The pre-combustion CO2 footprint of British fracked gas is half that of LNG shipped from Texas or Qatar. Methane emissions under strict UK regulation would be orders of magnitude lower than in the Permian, where Texan wildcatters flare and vent gas with abandon. 

Given that we will need gas as the decarbonisation bridge fuel to displace coal and buttress wind, a case can be made that home-grown gas from fracking is the cleaner version.

Britain’s fracking saga has been a travesty. Cuadrilla was harassed to death with earthquake limits of 0.5 on the Richter scale. This is far less than tremors created by a normal building site.

The low limit was intended to stop British fracking ever getting off the ground. In America it is 4.0, hundreds of times greater on a logarithmic scale. 

Cuadrilla’s Francis Egan said he has been ordered to fill his successful wells with concrete and shut everything down. He could revive the project quickly if the Government were to lift the earthquake ceiling to 1.5 and rush through planning consent for fracking and drilling. “We could be ready to rock and roll with two wells within six months, and another two within 12 months,” he told me. 

That would feed usable gas straight into a mains pipeline close by, in time for the coming winter. Mr Egan said he could produce a quarter trillion bcf (billions of cubic feet) from 40 wells based on a single four-acre site.

There is enough gas in the Bowland as a whole to displace UK imports entirely and to plug much of Germany’s gas deficit over the next decade. It would change the map of gas supply in Europe – while ‘levelling up’ with Northern jobs for good measure.  

There is a valid argument for letting Cuadrilla, Ineos, and others, give it a go, to see what really lies in the Bowland. If necessary, the Government should put up co-funding, since it has driven away private investors. “I don’t think we would object if the Government took a 50pc stake,” said Mr Egan.

I have not made up my mind but the fracking debate should be reopened. If the German Greens can swallow nuclear reactors for the immediate cause of Western democracy, who can baulk at compromise?  We are at war.

2 comments

  1. I do know that there is a bus going south from Padrón at six thirty in the evening. It’s the one our daughter catches on the first leg of her journey to Ponteareas. Other than that, inshallah.

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  2. Good afternoon,

    I’m still recovering from a very poor choice I made last night. I thought to watch former Vice President Biden’s “State of the Nation” address & he did not disappoint me. Inexecrable drivel. As Obama was overheard to say, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f–k things up”. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/byron-yorks-daily-memo-dont-underestimate-joes-ability-to-f-k-things-up

    I much prefer listening & learning from people whose opinions I respect, such as Ben Shapiro & Neil Oliver.

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