Cover page

Title page

Copyright page

Figures and Tables


2.1    US Natural Gas Pipelines

3.1    Share of Energy Consumption in the United States, 1776–2014

4.1    Distribution of Proved Oil Reserves, 1995, 2005 and 2015

4.2    Total Primary Energy Supply by Region, 1971 and 2014

6.1    Total Primary Energy Supply by Fuel, 1971 and 2014

6.2    Total Primary Energy Supply, Asia, 1971 and 2014

6.3    Nuclear Reactor Construction Starts, 1955–2014

6.4    Renewables and Fuel Shares in Total Primary Energy Supply, 2013

7.1    Conventional and Non-Conventional Liquid Hydrocarbons

7.2    Total Annual Anthropogenic GHG Emission by Gases, 1970–2010


2.1    Energy Security and Theoretical Frameworks

5.1    State Formation, the Resource Curse and Security


My interest in energy politics emerged relatively late in my career and is primarily due to Philip Andrews-Speed, and I am grateful for his support and for our productive intellectual collaboration. This included the EU-funded Polinares project (2010–13) where I also met a number of energy specialists who have had a considerable influence on the evolution of my thought. I would like to express my particular gratitude in this regard to Paul Stevens, David Humphreys, Giacomo Luciani, Evelyne Dietsche and Patrick Criqui. A special mention is to be given to Wojciech Ostrowski who has been a colleague, friend and support throughout the gestation of this book and encouraged me when my spirits were lagging.


Energy security is a value that is highly prized by states, societies and individuals. Our modern civilization is critically dependent on the energy resources and the energy services that make our lives prosperous and worthwhile. The systems and networks that have developed to ensure this flow of modern energy have become increasingly more complex and transnational. Oil and gas pipelines cross national borders; very large tanker ships transport oil, gas and coal over the world's oceans; and electricity grids criss-cross nations and continents. These resources and networks also represent large and profitable business opportunities, with companies and states competing to protect and expand their market share. And these energy flows, the majority of which are based on fossil fuels, interact with our environment in increasingly serious and unpredictable ways.

All of this creates vulnerabilities and anxieties that make energy security such a critical concern. This has also been evident since the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the new millennium. The sources of this heightened sense of vulnerability and anxiety are multiple. They include the volatility of the price of key energy resources, with the price of a barrel of oil rising from below $20 in the late 1990s to a peak of $148 in 2008 and then dropping to below $30 in 2014. This price volatility has paralleled severe political instability in many of the most significant energy-producing regions of the world. The petroleum-rich Middle East has been in almost ceaseless turmoil since the turn of the new century with multiple wars, revolutions and the spread of virulent forms of terrorism. A number of other key strategic energy-rich countries have become increasingly in conflict with the West, such as Russia in the aftermath of its intervention into Ukraine in 2014.

All of this is complicated by the changes in the profile of the major global energy consumers. While in the past these were primarily Western countries, the 2000s saw the rise of the emerging Asian economies as the most dynamic source for increased energy demand. The economic transformation of China has been the most dramatic illustration of this, leading to a radical re-directing of global energy flows to the Chinese mainland. The energy security dimensions of this are a new element in global international energy politics.

Energy security anxieties also extend to longer-term and more existential concerns. The growth of the global economy in the 1990s and 2000s, leading to the rising cost of energy commodities, resurrected fears of impending scarcity and the belief that a ‘peak’ in the production of these key resources is being reached. This presentiment of impending scarcity has been exacerbated by the scientific evidence that our continuing dependence on fossil fuels is irreparably damaging the natural environment through the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. This sense of impending crisis is in turn often linked to a concern that the technical complexity of our energy systems is making us more vulnerable. For example, the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 confirmed a widespread suspicion over the safety and reliability of dependence on nuclear sources of energy. There is also a wider recognition that our modern energy systems embed deeply unequal and unjust social, economic and political relations. While the advanced developed world enjoys a superfluity of energy services, there are over 1.4 billion of the poorest who lack basic access to electricity and over 2.4 billion who do not benefit from modern cooking services. For these poorest of our global population, energy security is not an exceptional occurrence but a daily existential challenge.

Aim and Structure of the Book

Energy Security is a book that differs from much of the expansive academic literature on energy security in that it is single-authored and does not incorporate a collection of differing perspectives from a variety of authors. There are an increasing number of high-quality multi-authored handbooks or collections on energy security or associated energy-related themes (Goldthau and Witte 2009b; Sovacool 2011; Goldthau 2013; Ekins et al. 2015; Kuzemko et al. 2016; Van de Graaf et al. 2016). The advantage of these multi-authored collections is that they are comprehensive in their range and scope, dealing with the multiple perspectives and dimensions that are integral to the complex interdependencies of energy studies. However, they can often lack a clear overarching narrative or argument as the different authors reflect their particular and distinctive views and perspectives (for an exception, see Bradshaw 2014).

The driving purpose of this book is to articulate an overarching conception and narrative of energy security. It is a conception which highlights in particular the political and contested nature of energy security. The central themes are those of power and justice and how considerations of the distribution of power and the perceptions of justice or injustice are critical for understanding or seeking to address issues of energy security. It is a perspective that, with the priority accorded to politics, draws in particular from the disciplines of International Relations and security studies while recognizing that any comprehensive understanding of energy security needs to draw from multiple disciplines. It is an approach which also accords a particular weight to history and how our understandings of energy security, with the associated power and justice concerns, are rooted in and suffused with historical legacies and developments. The book also focuses on how to combine the material physicality of the energy resources that underpin energy security and the social, economic and political environment in which understandings and narratives of energy security are constructed.

In pursuing this overarching argument and narrative, the scope of the book does nevertheless cover an ambitious range of different aspects and dimensions of energy security. However, with the main aim of the book being to focus on a political dimension which is at times absent from other accounts, this does mean that not all the different aspects of energy security are always covered with equal weight. For example, some of the more technical aspects of energy security have not been given focused attention, such as the role of international regimes in providing for oil storage or how grid management systems can manage intermittent renewable power sources. In addition, though issues of energy access to the poorest peoples are highlighted as a central concern that impacts on energy security, this issue is not analysed in depth. However, these gaps are compensated by the book's focus on the often neglected political dimensions of energy security and the new perspectives that this approach provides.

In developing this overarching argument and analysis, chapter 2 is particularly important in introducing the analytical framework and theoretical underpinnings of the book. As noted above, the framework is drawn mainly from the discipline of International Relations and from theoretical scholarship in international security studies. The advantages of the security studies approach is that it extends the scope of security beyond the traditional Cold War preoccupation with military conflict to new forms of security. It also recognizes that security is not an objective but a socially constructed reality and that our conceptualizations of security are framed and influenced by our social, economic and political conditions. Energy Security is a book whose central preoccupation is with the politics of energy security. However, this focus is not exclusive and insights are drawn from different disciplinary perspectives – such as economics, law, geography and sociology – recognizing the fact that energy security cannot be addressed without taking an interdisciplinary approach.

A distinctive feature of Energy Security is that it brings to the foreground the contested and normative nature of energy security. It takes seriously the view that energy security is an inextricably political concern involving questions of ‘who gets what, when, and how’. The underlying assumption is that energy security involves differing and unequal relations of political power, divergent understandings of justice and fairness, and conflicts over differing values. Chapter 2 gives analytical expression to this through the application of the main theoretical traditions of International Relations to energy security. These theoretical perspectives, it is argued, provide differing prisms through which to understand energy security and incorporate within them the main tensions and conflicts over energy security. The recognition of differing perspectives and narratives of energy security also dissolves the idea that there is a single correct conceptualization of energy security. As such, the chapter concludes by arguing that energy security needs to be understood as one value competing with other core values, such as economic prosperity and sustainability. A distinctive feature of this book is the prominence it gives to considerations of power and justice in its analytical framework.

Chapter 3 draws this out by assessing the evolution of energy security in its broader historical context. A strong theme of Energy Security is the importance accorded to history and how the legacies of the past continue to influence the ways in which energy security is currently conceptualized and debated. The chapter illustrates how differing historically defined energy systems, dependent on particular dominant energy resources, construct differing forms of energy insecurity. The chapter starts by thinking about energy security in the pre-modern and pre-industrial age and the transformation that occurred with the industrial coal-driven age. The energy security concerns over dependence on coal radically changed with the next major transition to the oil age and the growing international security concerns as regards the concentration of oil reserves in the Middle East. This culminates in the first major energy security crisis in the 1970s when there was a major shift in geo-economic power from the energy-importing Western countries to the energy-producing countries, in particular to those countries grouped within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The chapter concludes by explaining how this crisis was overcome and the West reasserted its dominance through a mix of economic diversification and political and ideological developments.

The next two chapters are dedicated to an analysis of the more immediate political dimensions of contemporary energy insecurity, with chapter 4 examining energy security in terms of international security and contemporary inter-state relations, and chapter 5 in terms of domestic security and relations between states and their societies. Chapter 4 identifies the ways in which energy security has affected, and has been affected by, three major contemporary sources of international insecurity. The first is the instability and conflict in the Middle East; the second, China's rise as a major power and its expansion as a global energy player; and the third, Russia's increasing use of energy as a source of geopolitical power and the deterioration in its relations with the West. Chapter 5 shifts attention from inter-state to intra-state domestic politics and argues how energy security also has a domestic political dimension. This is because energy resources are valuable commodities and thus inevitably foster internal social, economic and political conflicts over the equitable distribution and use of these resources. This chapter engages in particular with the debates over the so-called ‘resource curse’ and the argument that resources are not only increasingly becoming a source of domestic conflict but also a cause of civil wars.

Chapters 6 and 7 direct attention from the social and political to the economic and environmental dimensions of energy security. Chapter 6 examines the complex ways in which energy security concerns interact with relations between states and energy markets. This chapter is more granular than other chapters in that it assesses this through an analysis of the major energy resources; coal, oil, nuclear, gas and renewables. This chapter connects in particular with chapter 3 as it takes a quasi-historical approach, focusing on oil and coal first, and then looking at the more recently developed energy sources of natural gas, nuclear and modern renewables. Indeed, some readers might wish to read this chapter immediately after the historical chapter, particularly for those wanting to gain a better understanding of the specificities of these differing energy resources and flows. The main conclusion of this chapter is that states have generally sought to promote energy security through expanding and diversifying their energy mix rather than displacing any of these resources. Energy security cannot also be divorced from considerations of economic competitiveness and the critical role of energy markets.

Chapter 7 assesses whether this incremental and cautious approach to energy security is ultimately environmentally sustainable. This involves engaging with two major debates; the first on whether there are limits to the supply of the fossil fuels that underpin our contemporary energy-intensive modern industrial systems; the second on how to avert damaging anthropogenic climate change through the reduction and, ultimately, the elimination of the carbon dioxide emissions generated by fossil fuels. While the notion that we have reached a geological ‘peak’ and are ‘running out’ of fossil fuels is not supported in this chapter, it does nevertheless argue that there needs to be some ‘peak fossil fuels’, not least so as to stem global warming. The chapter then assesses the substantial efforts to negotiate an international agreement on climate change, most notably through the Kyoto Protocol, and why the actual impact on global emissions has been so limited. The chapter concludes by noting that, though there are reasons to be pessimistic that sufficient measures will be put in place to avert climate change, there are nevertheless some sources of optimism as well.

Overall, Energy Security seeks to articulate this larger landscape of energy security, locating it within a global, regional and national political framework. Energy security is understood as a value that is in continual competition with other values, such as economic prosperity and sustainability, and where the legacies of history, power inequalities and concerns over distributive justice play crucial roles in framing what we understand by the concept. In the final analysis, it is the intellectual excitement of grappling with energy security and its multiple dimensions that this book seeks, however imperfectly, to convey.