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Energy Pathways

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Energy Pathways

An energy pathway (in geography) is the flow of energy between a producer and a consumer. Energy pathways also refer to how energy reaches the consumer, such as through pipelines, transmission lines, shipping routes, roads, and rail. Having energy pathways is crucial for energy security.

Energy insecurity is when countries have an interrupted energy supply or cannot provide sufficient energy.

What are energy pathways in geography?

As the definition states above, energy pathways are the routes energy sources travel to get from a producer to a consumer. They are a critical aspect of energy security, but they are susceptible to disruption (as we discuss below).

What types of energy pathways are there?

There are numerous energy pathways, including oil pipelines, gas pipelines, the routes ships carrying oil and gas take, and electricity cables. Below, we look at two types of energy pathways: oil or gas pipelines and shipping routes.

Pipelines as energy pathways

Pipelines transport oil or gas overground, underground, or along a seabed. These pathways depend on multilateral (between many countries) and bilateral agreements (between two countries).

The Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline exports crude oil from Russia to China, South Korea, and Japan. It is 4188km long and was completed in 2012 by the Russian energy company Transneft.1

For security reasons, some companies try to avoid transit states (a country or state where the energy flows through on its way from producer to consumer). For example, the Nord Stream pipeline runs along the bed of the Baltic Sea, and the South Stream pipeline runs under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

Energy Pathways Map of Nord Stream pipeline route StudySmarterThe pipeline route of the Nord Stream, Samuel Bailey, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0

Shipping routes as energy pathways

Around half of the world’s oil is shipped by tankers on fixed routes. The oil goes through chokepoints, which are narrow channels or convergences where key transport routes can be disrupted. If these chokepoints are blocked or threatened, there could be a rise in energy prices, which could affect global energy security

The Strait of Hormuz, a 39km wide stretch of water between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, has 20% of the world’s oil passing through it.2

energy pathways, The Strait of Hormuz, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The Strait of Hormuz, a crucial energy pathway

What are disrupted energy pathways?

Many factors can contribute to the risk of disruption of energy pathways. Some include terrorism, war, geopolitical tensions between countries, piracy, natural hazards, and political conflicts. Securing energy resources involves ownership, use, and control matters, and any disruptions to pathways could undermine energy security.

Examples of disrupted energy pathways

There have been cases such as:

  • Piracy attacks on chokepoints. There were multiple reported cases by the International Maritime Bureau along the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore in 2015. This strait is the world’s second-largest chokepoint for oil and gas transit by tanker. Vessels are frequently seized by ships for hostage payments.3
  • Bombings by militants. In 2016, the Trans Forcados, Effurun-Otor, and Escravos pipelines in Nigeria were bombed by militants.4
  • Natural disasters. In 2013, a storm damaged an import pipeline in the United Kingdom (UK). This led to UK gas reserves falling to only 6 hours' worth.5

Energy pathways and political conflict

Oil and gas are often the roots of international tensions, which can lead to proxy wars a war instigated on behalf of other parties not directly involved.

energy pathways, energy disputes, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Demand for energy can cause tension and conflict

An example of how energy pathways can lead to political conflict is the ongoing conflict in Syria. It involves Russia, with its Shia non-fundamentalist allies, and the USA, with its fundamentalist Sunni allies. Both are involved as they want control over Syrian territory. Key to this conflict is a proposed construction of oil and gas pipelines through Syria, which would supply fuel into Europe - the world’s largest energy market.

Russia is the world’s largest supplier of oil and gas and an ally to Shiite Iran. Shiite Iran is interested in a share of the European market, which Russia supports. This support secures control over European energy and strengthens the non-fundamentalist bloc between Asia and the Middle East. On the other side, Sunni Qatar and Saudi Arabia also want to become Europe's leading supplier of gas and oil. To do this, they would need to have a pipeline through Syria. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are allied with the USA, so the USA would be able to build pipelines allowing US companies, such as Exxon, to provide Middle Eastern oil and gas to Europe.

Energy Pathways - Key takeaways

  • An energy pathway (in geography) is the flow of energy between a producer and a consumer.
  • Energy pathways also refer to how energy reaches the consumer, such as through pipelines, transmission lines, shipping routes, roads, and rail. Having energy pathways is crucial for energy security.
  • Pipelines transport oil or gas overground, underground, or along a seabed. These pathways depend on multilateral and bilateral agreements.
  • Around half of the world's oil is shipped by tankers on fixed routes. There are major trade flows of oil and eight major chokepoints.
  • Securing energy resources involves ownership, use, and control matters, which concern geopolitical factors. Oil and gas are often the root of international tension and can cause proxy wars.

Sources

1 Hydrocarbons Technology. The ESPO (Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean) Oil Pipeline, Siberia, Russia. No date.

2 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Strait of Hormuz. 1998.

3 Laura Southgate. Piracy in the Malacca Strait: Can ASEAN Respond? 2015.

4 Tife Owolabi & Alexis Akwagyiram. Blast hits oil pipeline feeding Forcados terminal in Nigeria’s Delta. 2016.

5 Fiona Harvey & Josephine Moulds.Wholesale gas prices soar in Britain after pipeline is forced to close. 2013.

Images

Map of the proposed Nord Stream and connecting pipelines. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nordstream.png

Frequently Asked Questions about Energy Pathways

An energy pathway (in geography) is the flow of energy between a producer and a consumer.

Energy such as oil, gas, and electricity use an energy pathway.

Oil pipelines, gas pipelines, electricity power lines, and the sea routes of tankers are the four pathways for transferring energy.

Energy insecurity is when countries have an interrupted supply of energy or cannot provide sufficient energy.

Final Energy Pathways Quiz

Question

What is an energy pathway?

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Answer

An energy pathway (in geography) is the flow of energy between a producer and a consumer. Energy pathways also refer to how energy reaches the consumer, such as through pipelines, transmission lines, shipping routes, roads, and rail.

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Question

What is a pipeline?


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Answer

Pipelines transport oil or gas overground, underground, or along a seabed.

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Question

Give an example of a pipeline.


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Answer

The ESPO (Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean) pipeline that exports crude oil from Russia to China, South Korea, and Japan. 

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Question

Which fossil fuel is transported by pipelines for efficiency?


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Answer

Natural gas.

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Question

What is a multilateral agreement?


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Answer

Energy pathways depend on multilateral agreements, which is between many countries.

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What is a bilateral agreement?


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Answer

These energy pathways depend on bilateral agreements, which is between two countries.

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What are transit states?


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Answer

A country or state through which energy flows on its way from producer to consumer.

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Question

Why and how do companies avoid transit states?


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Answer

There are companies that try to avoid transit states for security reasons. For example, the Nord Stream pipeline runs along the bed of the Baltic Sea, and the South Stream pipeline runs under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

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What is a chokepoint?


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Answer

Narrow channels or convergences where major trade flows of oil occur.

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What would happen if something were to block or threaten a chokepoint?


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Answer

There could be a rise in energy prices, which could affect global energy security.

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What kind of geopolitical factors are involved in securing energy resources?


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Answer

Securing energy resources involves ownership, use, and control matters, which concern geopolitical factors.

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What kind of disruptions to energy pathways are there?


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Answer

Militant action, natural hazards, and political conflict.

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Question

Give an example of a disruption to an energy pathway.


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Answer

An example of a disruption to an energy pathway would be piracy attacks on chokepoints. There were multiple reported cases by the International Maritime Bureau along the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore in 2015. Vessels are often seized by ships for hostage payments.

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Question

What is a proxy war?


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Answer

A proxy war is a war instigated on behalf of other parties not directly involved.

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