1st Jun 2023

Europe sees Russian gas flows restart, amid winter fears

  • Russian president Vladimir Putin said the controversial Nord Stream 2 would be an option to increase gas supplies to Europe (Photo:
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Gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline restarted on Thursday (21 July) after 10 days of maintenance work, easing concerns over German storage levels and supplies from Russia.

The pipeline, connecting Russia and Germany, is expected to supply 530 GWh during the day, according to data sent by Gazprom to Gascade, the German grid operator.

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But this represents only 30 percent of its capacity, the president of the German Network Agency, Klaus Müller, said on Twitter.

Russian energy giant Gazprom reduced gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 60 percent last month, citing technical problems — and amid rising fears that Russia would completely close the gas taps after the technical annual maintenance period, which began on July 11.

Berlin saw the move as another example of how Russia has weaponised energy supplies since the war in Ukraine began.

On Wednesday, Russian president Vladimir Putin said the controversial but currently mothballed Nord Stream 2 would be an option to increase gas supplies to Europe.

"We have another route ready — it is Nord Stream 2. It can be launched," Putin said, according to the Russian news agency Tass.

The certification of the controversial export gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea was scrapped in February, amid the scramble by the EU plus Western allies to impose an initial set of sanctions against Russian officials. It had been completed but not put into use.

'Save Gas for a Safe Winter' slogan

Meanwhile, the EU has put forward a new "demand-reduction plan" to prepare for possible further gas supply disruptions of a full cut-off next winter.

The 'Save Gas for a Safe Winter' EU package has been welcomed by Germany, whose dependency on energy imports from Russia has been growing in the last 20 years.

"European solidarity is more important than ever in these times (…) One decisive lever is to reduce gas consumption. We all need to work on this with all our might," said German minister for economy and climate action, Robert Habeck.

Spain, for its part, rejected the European Commission's proposal to decrease the bloc's gas use by 15 percent over the next eight months. "Whatever happens, Spanish families will not suffer gas or electricity cuts in their homes," ecological transition minister Teresa Ribera told reporters in Madrid on Wednesday.

The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, welcomed plans to reduce gas consumption in the bloc, arguing that the next few months are critical to preparing for "a tough winter"

"This winter could become a historic test of European solidarity — one it cannot afford to fail," Birol said earlier this week.

In the situation of a complete cut-off of Russian gas, the EU would have to fill its gas storage facilities to above 90 percent of their capacity to get through the coming winter, although the risk of supply disruption would still remain, according to the IEA.

The bloc has committed to filling gas storage facilities up to at least 80 percent of their capacity by 1 November — although efforts to reduce imports of Russian gas by two-thirds this year also include having a common purchase of gas and the diversification of gas supplies.

In the meantime, Russia's oil and gas export revenues (€93bn) have doubled since its invasion of Ukraine.

EU Commission set to unveil gas-reduction plan

The European Commission will unveil a new plan to reduce gas consumption by industry and consumers in a bid to prepare for "a likely deterioration" — or a full cut-off of Russian gas flows this winter.

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EU ministers struggle over 15% gas-cut plan

The meeting comes as the Russian state-controlled Gazprom announced that supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany would drop to just 20 percent of capacity, starting Wednesday.

Russia cuts Nord Stream 1 gas to 20% capacity

It comes a day after EU governments approved a watered-down plan to curb gas demand by 15 percent, aimed at lowering consumption, building storage, and sharing supplies if Russia in future cuts all exports.

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"If energy prices increase again and support cannot be fully discontinued, targeted policies to support vulnerable households and companies — rather than wide and less effective support policies — will remain crucial," the commission said in its assessment.


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