New documents obtained by a Greenpeace/Energydesk FOI request have revealed government concerns about the security of gas supplies to the UK.
The news comes as the boss of energy regulator Ofgem warned that gas supplies would be limited over the next decade and prices would rise.
The documents detail discussions between UK and Qatari government officials over security concerns, some of them taking place aboard a UK warship, HMS Duke, in 2011. Concerns raised include:
- With 96 tankers moving around the world 24/7 LNG presented a 'major energy security issue'.
- They had been 'lucky' so far due to tanker speed but measures now being implemented included 'citadels' on tankers and the use of barbed wire.
- There was discussion of 'on board security teams' with the concern raised that this may lead to an 'arms race on the high seas'.
A separate series of FOI requests - which were poorly redacted by the UK government - add further detail to the discussion, highlighting wider security concerns to LNG infrastructure beyond piracy:
- In a discussion energy security UK officials were briefed to ask about current threats to Qatari LNG infrastructure and offered support regarding security for the 2022 World Cup.
- Detailed the security relationship between the UK and Qatar focused on protecting energy infrastructure.
Shipments of gas from Qatar accounted for around 30% of the UK's gas supplies in 2011.
Foreign Office sources reportedly told ITV that piracy attacks along the route travelled by Qatari LNG tankers had decreased in the last year.
Industry sources contacted by Energydesk suggested greater military and naval action in the region was partly responsible for undermining the economics of piracy.
The recent attack on a gas installation in Algeria, however, has heightened concerns about attacks on energy infrustructure in the region.
Concerns about potential unrest along the route used by LNG shipments were raised by a report from energy consultants Poyry prepared for the government in 2010.
LNG tankers are relatively well protected, fast and difficult to intercept.
An attack off the coast of Oman over the summer in which shots were fired failed, and piracy experts say such attacks are likely to remain rare.
Expert opinion is divided on the impact of a successful attack on an LNG shipment.
A 2006 report by the US Council on Foreign Relations suggested the likely impact would depend on the weather but could be 'catastrophic'.
Ofgem suggests that any interruption to UK supplies of gas would not lead to black-outs or shortages. It would however be likely to drive up the price substantially.