Interview with Vitaly Yermakov

Vitaly Yermakov, Research Director for Russian and Caspian energy at Cambridge Energy Research Associates,  joined Russia Today to discuss the specifics of the coal/gas ratio in Russia's energy balance, in connection with the deadly accident in the c

Russia Today: Coal mining seems to be a dangerous business with tragedies re-occurring, especially lately here in Russia. Is there such a thing as safe coal mining?

Vitaly Yermakov:Let me start by expressing my condolences to the families of the miners, who died in the accident. Every loss of human life on such a scale causes concerns about operations of coal mines, or if you reacll the Chernobyl accident , nuclear power being used to satisfy the energy needs of the population. And in this case again, let me remind you, this is the second large accident in the Kemerovo region. Just a few months ago there was another huge accident at the  Ulyanovskaya mine. It is important to address the issue of safety separately from the issue of energy choices that Russia is facing. In this case it looks as if the safety requirements were abandoned over and over again.  I personally heard accounts of   technicians basically adjusting the sensors that suppose to detect methane levels, not to show really the dangerous levels of methane in a mine. In this case, the state should really come in as a regulator to impose very strict safety requirements. 

RT: Are you saying, that if regulations are followed strictly and requirements are met there is such thing as safe coal mining?

V.Y.: It can definitely reduce the chance of such accidents happening. It is always very difficult to prevent all the accidents, and they do happen, but following the strict  safety regulations and safety requirements definitely reduces the risk there.

RT:  The Russian government's recent energy policy has been to decrease the country's dependence on natural gas towards a greater use of coal. Do you think this is like an optimal choice?

V.Y.: Russia is facing a difficult choice between really selecting the best energy carriers for its energy balance. Russia is blessed with a huge endowment of pretty much every kind of energy resources: natural gas, coal. Russia has a lot of nuclear plants in operation. Taking that into account, it seems that Russia really has been enjoying very cheap gas for many decades, and it is still the perfect choice for the Russia's energy balance, simply because the resources are plentiful and it is the cleanest and the best fuel for satisfying specific Russia's demand in peak electricity generation for the moment. So it is important not  to overstep, not to overreact in terms of developing coal, simply because, for the moment,  gas seems to be scarce, not available. This scarcity  – the relative scarcity of gas – is a sort of idea that Russia will not produce the gas to satisfy both domestic and expert needs. It is really going to be short-term in the next investment cycle. Over five to seven years, this problem is going to be solved. It is really a choice that Russia has to make, but in my view, dependence on gas for Russia is not such a bad thing.