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24th Jul 2016

Finland most vulnerable to Russian gas cut-off

  • How long would Europe last without Russian gas? (Photo: EWI)

Finland would experience gas shortages even if Russia cut off exports just for one month, while other EU countries would last between three to nine months without Russian gas, according to a German study.

"A Russian gas export embargo during the winter of 2014/15 lasting for more than 6 months would cause supply shortfalls in many European countries, in particular, in central and eastern Europe, including Germany," according to a study published Wednesday (3 September) by the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne.

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Based on a computer simulation of European pipelines, storage facilities and liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, the study explores what would happen if Russia would cut off the gas for one, three, six or nine months.

Since Finland has no storage capacities and 100 percent of its gas comes from Russia, it would be the first country to experience supply shortages - up to 10 percent in the first month and over 50 percent if Russia halts gas exports for three months.

A three-month Russian embargo would leave Poland with a 1.8 billion cubic metre shortfall and Turkey with a shortfall of 3.8 billion metres.

Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, the Balkan countries and Estonia would feel the effects of a six-month embargo.

Meanwhile, if Russia switches off the tap for nine months, gas supplies in Germany, Italy and France would be "severely affected" and a total of 46 billion cubic metres of European gas demand could not be served.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia would also have problems, as well as the countries already in trouble after three months (Finland, Poland, Turkey, Greece, Austria, the entire Balkan, Estonia and Switzerland).

The countries in which gas supply would be secure even during a nine-month disruption are those who still have their own gas reserves, such as Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Romania and the UK.

Countries importing from their neighbours or with LNG terminals would also be safe: Belgium, Bulgaria, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

The study also looks at the impact of one extremely cold week during a six-month disruption: "Supply shortfalls would occur in almost the entirety of Europe." In that scenario, Ireland, the UK, Belgium, Romania and Bulgaria would also be affected.

But Russia would be hit too, as it would lose €4-4.5 billion of revenues for each month of an embargo, some 3.5 percent of Gazprom's annual revenue.

"This would significantly affect Gazprom’s profitability, and reduce the company’s ability to contribute to the Russian state budget," the German researchers note.

Similar "worse case scenarios" are also being considered in the European Commission, as the Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to affect the gas supplies to EU countries this winter.

"That Putin would use false information, lies and weapons was beyond my imagination," energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in Brussels on Tuesday.

"That's why I am not ruling out worst case scenarios any more," he added, referring to Europe's energy security.

Among the contingency plans being considered is a ban on LNG gas being exported out of Europe, a source familiar with the emergency plans told Reuters.

"In the short-term, we are very worried about winter supplies in southeast Europe. Our best hope in case of a cut is emergency measure 994/2010 which could prevent LNG from leaving Europe as well as limit industrial gas use in order to protect households," the source said.

EU regulation 994/2010 was passed in 2010 to safeguard gas supplies. If applied, it would include banning gas companies from selling LNG tankers outside of Europe, keeping more gas in reserve, and ordering industry to cap its use of gas.

Europe's reliance on Russian gas is expected to last for at least another 10 years, according to US ratings agency Fitch.

"Any attempt to improve energy security by reducing European reliance on Russia would require either a significant reduction in overall gas demand or a big increase in alternative sources of supply, but neither of these appears likely," Fitch said in a report on Tuesday.

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