MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussel’s Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us today for this virtual press briefing. We are very honored to be joined by the Deputy Secretary for the Department of Energy David Turk.
We will try to get to as many questions as possible in the 30 minutes that we have allotted today, so please show your support and like the questions you’d most like us to cover. You can notify us of any technical difficulties at TheBrusselsHub – one word – @state.gov. Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record.
With that, let’s get started. Deputy Secretary Turk, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: Well, thank you very much, John, and thanks for everyone joining us today. Really appreciate the opportunity to be with you all. And let me just frame up a few opening thoughts, and then happy to take any and all questions.
I’m here in Brussels with our Secretary of State Tony Blinken for an Energy Council, EU-U.S. Energy Council, meeting. We do these on a yearly basis at a minister level. And it’s quite remarkable to meet this year and look back at what has happened in a very consequential year for energy looking backwards, and then also looking forward, where we need to go and what we need to do.
So it’s no doubt in the looking-back part of it, as we talked about in the setting – in the private setting, just how dynamic and unprecedented and even unnerving it’s been for energy over this past year. We’ve had, of course, the energy challenges and issues in Ukraine with the repeated and barbaric bombing of the electricity infrastructure in particular in Ukraine. We’ve had energy security and affordability issues not only here in Europe but around the world, including and especially in developing countries around the world. And all the while, we’re working with a sense of urgency on the decarbonization front as well.
And I came away from the meeting today feeling even more firmly that we won’t be successful on any of these incredibly important issues and important imperatives without a true partnership – a robust, enduring, and true partnership not only government to government between the European Union and European Commission and the U.S. Government, but the private sector, NGOs, and society to society, and think we’ve got the making of that true partnership and we need to strengthen that even further.
Just thinking about what we’ve been able to accomplish in that true partnership mode on energy issues over the last year, helping our Ukrainian colleagues deal with that barbaric repeated bombing of their electricity infrastructure, the incredible resilience that we’ve seen first and foremost by the Ukrainians, but with help and assistance by the European Union and by the U.S. as well. We’ve seen remarkable progress on energy security and affordability. Looking at the natural gas storage numbers coming out of winter, we’re at 56 percent here in Europe for natural gas storage. That compares to what it would normally be at about 26 percent. That’s remarkable leadership commitment, not just from the European Union and Commission but from people all across the country. So we’re in a remarkably good place. We still can’t get complacent on the gas side, but a lot of progress made on that front.
And we’ve seen some progress on the decarbonization front as well, over 50 gigawatts of renewables just here in Europe being brought online in 2022. That is a remarkable number. Overall globally, of all the additional electricity generation capacity brought online in 2022, 90 percent of that was renewables. So that is a bright spot, and we are making some progress on that front. But it’s also true that there’s an awful lot more work to be done, and an awful lot more work that needs to be done with EU leadership, with U.S. leadership, and with partnership.
So on the Ukrainian front, we need to continue to deal with the urgent issues and also talk about the enduring commitment, building back – in the words of our President, building back better in terms of hardening, in terms of decentralizing, in terms of decarbonizing the grid in Ukraine.
On the security and affordability front, we need to keep an eye out for next winter and the winter after that, and certainly the U.S. working hand-in-hand with Europe on all of those issues.
And then there’s an awful lot of work we need to do on the decarbonization front. There are some bright spots, like the renewable number that I referenced earlier, but we’re not making enough progress certainly globally. In fact, emissions were actually up from the energy and industrial sectors last year, a .9 percent increase. We need to be lowering emissions; we need to lowering emissions dramatically if – to be on the Paris Agreement, the 1.5 degree trajectory. So there’s an awful lot of work we need to do on that front.
But all of these issues – the world is better off; the people in Europe are better off; the people in the U.S. are better off with that leadership from the EU, the leadership from the U.S., and a true, true partnership between our two governments, but more importantly our two societies as well.
So with that, John, happy to take questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Deputy Secretary. First we’ll go to a pre-submitted question from Momchil Indjov from Club Z Media in Bulgaria. He asks: “Bulgaria has declared that it cannot comply with the goal of reducing by 40 percent the emissions from its coal plants. What is your view on this?”
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: Well, thanks for the question. And I was in Bulgaria not too long ago, about a half a year or so ago, and had terrific meetings with the government, with others there, and an awful lot of good partnership with the U.S. Government, but of course, partnership and regional leadership from Bulgaria as well. And I think it’s true to say that a lot of the goals that countries have put on the table are ambitious goals and are going to require an awful lot of work in order to be successful, or as successful as possible.
So in Bulgaria, we have had some good discussions and partnership, not only on renewables and other parts of the clean energy spectrum, but on nuclear as well, which we think is an important part for countries who are interested in nuclear to take advantage of some of those capabilities. So a lot of discussion with countries on small modular reactors, new nuclear reactors that are smaller, that have some inherent safety features, and that can be economical as well.
So there’s a lot of avenues for progress on that front, and it’s up for Bulgaria, it’s up for countries to choose their pathways for themselves, but the U.S. Government is certainly eager and happy to help support and provide thoughts, analysis, and support.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We’ll go to a live question now from Frédéric Simon. Frédéric, you have the mike. Can you hear us?
QUESTION: Can you hear me now?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Excellent. Thanks for giving me the floor. This is Frédéric Simon from EURACTIV.com in Brussels. I was wondering – you’re probably aware that Ukraine is aiming to become fully independent from Russian gas and is trying to develop its own gas production capacity. I’d like to know how the U.S. plans to support this in any way, and do you believe Ukraine can become independent from Russian gas already by the end of this year?
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: So Ukraine definitely has gas reserves and there are plans, and we’ve had some good discussions bilaterally in terms of developing those resources further, first and foremost for the benefit of the Ukrainian people and their own energy security. And I have to say it’s been incredibly impressive to see our Ukrainian friends and colleagues do what they’ve been able to do over the last year in terms of the resilience of the electricity sector and more broadly in energy. So it is a country with a lot of can-do attitude in being able to do things very, very quickly and robustly with a lot of ingenuity and with a lot of skill going forward.
We’re in a partnership with Ukraine leveraging some of our national lab expertise. We’re fortunate in the United States to have 17 national labs that are accountable to the U.S. Department of Energy where I work, and we’ve made that lab expertise available to help the Ukrainians in terms of their planning, in terms of their execution, to achieve their own goals on energy. And so we look forward to continue that collaboration going forward, but I would not discount what the Ukrainians are able to do on the behalf of the Ukrainian people, whether it’s gas or they’ve got a lot of capabilities and capacities with other parts of their energy potential as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We’ll go to another submitted question from Solenn Paulic from Le Figaro in Belgium. He asks: “The joint declaration mentions renewed cooperation to reduce dependence on Russia for nuclear materials and fuel cycle services and supports efforts by the EU member-states concerned to diversify sources of nuclear fuel supply, where appropriate. What do you expect from the five member-states, including France, that still depend on Russian nuclear power?”
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: So we’ve had a lot of good discussions not only with France, but other countries not only here in Europe, but there’s been some good discussions in the G7, but elsewhere also. The G7 energy ministers are getting together next week. And I think there is a shared appreciation of diversifying and having secure supplies, including for nuclear materials going forward. We’ve seen what Russia has done with natural gas, with other parts of the energy infrastructure using energy as a weapon. And we think it’s very wise for countries not only in Europe but around the world to diversify their supplies. And we’re eager to strengthen those partnerships, as was referenced in the statement today but will be referenced in further statements to come, but more importantly, working towards those goals going forward. And I’ve had a lot of good conversations with a variety of French Government colleagues, but other colleagues, again, not only in France but other key countries as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We’ll go now to another live question, Alex Raufoglu. Alex, you have the mike.
QUESTION: John, thank you so much for doing this. And Deputy Secretary Turk, thank you for your time. I was wondering how much of OPEC production cut impacted your talks today positively or negatively. What is your reaction?
And second question: Is it your assessment that Europe can survive next winter without Russian LNG?
And lastly, if I may, there are reports that Japan broke with U.S. allies, buying Russian oil at prices above cap. Let me get your reaction to that as well if you – if possible. Thanks so much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: Yeah, thanks for all of those questions. So first on the Europe question in terms of next winter, it’s been remarkable, and we’ve certainly tried to help from the United States side with our liquified natural gas – our LNG exports at record levels to Europe over the last many months, but it’s been remarkable what Europe has been able to do, including on the efficiency side and on the demand side. And to be leaving this winter, and it was a mild winter – luck on the weather helps as well – but to be leaving this winter at 56 percent storage capacity as opposed to where we’d normally be – where Europe would normally be this time of year, 26 percent or even lower, is quite a remarkable achievement.
But what we need to do, and as we talked about in the session in the European – or the Energy Council earlier today is we can’t be complacent. And we have to continue all our efforts for next winter, but I think there’s a general confidence that if we aren’t complacent and we do what we need to do – all of us doing what we need to do – we can be prepared for next winter. But we need to be prepared for the winter after that as well. LNG export terminals in the U.S. and other countries are big infrastructure projects. They take several years to build, and so we’ve got a few-year period of time here where during COVID not a lot was being constructed on that front. And so there’s additional capacity on the export side, but it’s not coming online until a few years down the line. So we have not only this winter but next winter as well that we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball and work in partnership, but very encouraged to see what happened this past winter. And again, we just can’t get complacent on that side of things.
So on the OPEC+ side of things and the decision to cut production on their end, as we look at the energy market going forward, especially in the second half of this year – and there’s a lot of factors that are outside certainly of our control in terms of overall economic productivity – what happens in China makes a big difference in terms of global oil use and how much the demand supply is matched or not matched. But we have – we are seeing at least some estimates that there’s some tightening in the oil market, especially as we get into the second half of next year. And we think it’s important for all countries, not just OPEC+ countries, but all countries to recognize that and to make sure that we don’t have significant tightness and significant shortages in the market. It’s good for everybody to have stable oil prices going forward along those lines, so we’ll leave it there on that front.
And then on Japan, so – many good conversations with our Japanese colleagues. I think some of the reporting here has been a little bit not entirely accurate, if I could put it that way. There have been some agreements, and we work with our Japanese colleagues, who, of course, have focused on their own energy security for years and years and years as an island country that’s dependent on sources of energy from other parts of the world, including from the U.S. with natural gas as well – but there were some agreements built into the discussion on price cap and other efforts going forward to make sure the Japanese could take care of their own and have some opportunities going forward along those lines. That’s been reported, at least in some outlets that I’ve seen, as some kind of backtracking or some kind of new arrangement or whatnot. But those discussions have happened in good faith with our Japanese colleagues in trying to be aware of, cognizant of their own energy security needs as well. So we’ll leave it there.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We’ll go to another live question, going back to Momchil Indjov from Club Z in Bulgaria. Momchil, you have the mike.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. I have two questions. The first one is about energy security. After the attacks again – after the accidents with the Nord Stream pipelines, are there fears in the U.S. or elsewhere about key – about the critical energy installations in Europe? And in this case, I mean especially the hub on the border between Bulgaria and Greece.
And the second question is: Recently Bulgaria declared that it cannot comply with the goal of reducing by 40 percent the emission from its coal plants. Would you comment this? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: Yeah, thanks very much for the question. So on the energy security side, we have been – and we spent a lot of time and effort and focus, including working with our industry in the United States, not only on the physical security of our energy infrastructure and critical energy infrastructure – critical nodes in particular – but also the cyber piece of it. And we do have good partnerships with other countries around the world to make sure we’re all doing what we can to protect our critical energy infrastructure. And so our philosophy is: be diligent; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And make sure that we’re eyes wide open in terms of the threats out there and doing what we can to mitigate that, to minimize the chances of significant disruptions going forward. And eager to work with Bulgaria, eager to work with other countries as well on that front.
And then to your question on the Bulgarian ability to meet their goals, the 40 percent reduction, it was great to be in Bulgaria not too long ago and to have good discussions with Bulgarian Government colleagues, but also others in the private sector and civil society as well. And it is a challenging time for energy in Bulgaria; it’s a challenging time for energy in a number of countries in the region and around the world. I think there are a lot of pathways to decarbonize and a lot of pathways to get to where we need to get to as a world in terms of our climate objectives going forward. And so we’re eager to have further conversations with our Bulgarian colleagues in terms of different pathways or technologies, whether it’s small modular reactors, whether it’s different kinds of renewables, whether it’s shoring up the grid, taking advantage of new and emerging opportunities on green hydrogen as well. And eager for those conversations going forward.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. I think we have time for one more question, if there are any others out there. I’ll give it about 10 seconds and then we’ll wrap it up. It doesn’t look like we are able to have any more questions, so unfortunately, we’ll have to wrap up the call for today.
Deputy Secretary Turk, can I throw it back to you for any final thoughts?
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: Yeah, thanks, John.
MODERATOR: Oh – I’m sorry. I’m sorry; I do have one more. I apologize for interrupting you, sir.
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: No worries.
MODERATOR: Ari Natter just raised his hand. Ari, you have the mike if you can hear us.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can you hear me okay?
QUESTION: Okay, great. I’m curious to know what response the U.S. might have to the OPEC cuts, if any.
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: Yeah, thanks – thanks, Ari. So we, of course – not only because it’s in the interest of the U.S. and our U.S. citizens and population, but oil prices make a big difference around the world – and one thing that I think is quite striking is it’s not only countries like the U.S. or in Europe but developing countries around the world who pay the price if oil prices or other commodity prices are too high and fluctuate too wildly. And so as we look at the global oil market, we do see some potential tightening in the second half of the year.
And so we think it incumbent upon all producers, not just OPEC+ producers but others, to take that into account and to make sure that we’re all doing what we can to have low and stable prices going forward. Stable prices, stability in a global commodity like oil is in everyone’s interest, especially as we try to reduce inflation and try to turn the corner in terms of economic growth and economic prosperity going forward.
So we’ll leave it there on that one.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Deputy Secretary. And that is, unfortunately, all the time we have today. Thank you all for your questions.
Before we close the call, Deputy Secretary Turk, I’d throw it back to you for any final thoughts.
DEPUTY SECRETARY TURK: Yeah. Thanks, John, and just a big thanks for everyone joining us today. And it’s terrific to be here in Brussels, it’s terrific to have conversations with European Commission colleagues and friends, and it’s terrific to work in partnership with countries throughout Europe to see what we all can do to deal with some of the challenges in energy.
But as there are challenges, there are huge, huge opportunities as well. There are economic opportunities. We’re seeing that in our country, including reshoring and friend-shoring a lot of domestic manufacturing and manufacturing opportunities and supply chain opportunities, including for critical minerals and battery manufacturing, and looking forward to working in partnership with countries – like-minded countries in Europe, but around the world as well.
So as we decarbonize and as we transform our energy into cleaner sources of energy, we certainly feel in the Biden administration, the U.S. Government, huge, huge opportunities and huge partnership opportunities that we can all improve our economies, promote stability, ensure affordability going forward. So eager to continue those efforts with Brussels and the European Commission and European Union, but countries throughout Europe and countries around the world.
So again, thanks for the time, and hope to be back here in Brussels in the not-too-distant future.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Deputy Secretary. Shortly we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – one word – @state.gov.
Thanks again to everyone for your participation and we hope you can join us again for another press briefing in the future. This ends today’s briefing.
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