Key gas pipeline linking Russia to Europe restarts after hiatus

BERLIN (AP) — Natural gas began flowing Thursday through a major gas pipeline linking Russia to Europe after a 10-day shutdown for maintenance — but gas flow remained well below full capacity and the outlook were uncertain, leaving Europe still facing the prospect of a harsh winter.

The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany had been closed since July 11 for annual maintenance work. Amid growing tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine, German officials feared the pipeline – the country’s main source of Russian gas, which recently accounted for around a third of Germany’s gas supplies – could reopen no way.

Network data showed gas was starting to arrive through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline as scheduled after 6 a.m., and the operator said it had “successfully completed all planned maintenance work”. But deliveries were still well below full pipeline capacity, as they had been for weeks before the maintenance break.

The head of the German network regulator, Klaus Mueller, said Russia’s Gazprom notified deliveries of around 30% of the pipeline’s capacity on Thursday. He then tweeted that actual deliveries were above that amount and could reach the pre-maintenance level of around 40%.

That would not be enough to solve Europe’s energy crisis. “Political uncertainty and the 60% reduction from mid-June unfortunately remain,” Mueller wrote.

When Gazprom cut throughput last month, it cited alleged technical problems involving equipment that partner Siemens Energy sent to Canada for overhaul and which could not be returned due to sanctions imposed following the invasion. of Ukraine by Russia.

Earlier this month, the Canadian government authorized delivery to Germany of the turbine that powers a compressor station at the Russian end of the pipeline.

The German government has dismissed Gazprom’s technical explanation for the gas cut, repeatedly accusing it was just a pretext for a political move to sow uncertainty and further drive up prices Energy. He said the turbine was a replacement not due to be installed until September, but he was doing everything to deprive Russia of the pretext to cut supplies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Gazprom had still not received the relevant documents for the return of the turbine and on Wednesday questioned the quality of the repair work. Putin said Gazprom was due to shut down another turbine for repairs at the end of July, and if the one that was sent to Canada was not returned by then, gas flow would decline even further.

The head of the European Union’s Executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Wednesday the turbine was “in transit” and there was “no excuse not to deliver” gas.

Simone Tagliapietra, an energy policy expert at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said Russia was playing a “strategic game”.

“Keeping the flow low is better than shutting it down. This diminishes Europe’s resolve to reduce gas demand,” he said. He warned that Europe must go into crisis mode anyway “because an interruption is likely to occur in winter. And every cubic meter of gas saved now makes Europe more resilient in the months to come”.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said: ‘stresses today – even though there is an announcement that the gas is flowing again – that this war is not only being waged with arms against Ukraine , but that hybrid warfare also means using energy dependence as a means of warfare. ”

The European Commission this week proposed that member countries cut their gas consumption by 15% over the next few months as the bloc prepares for a possible total cut off of gas supplies from Russia.

Germany and the rest of Europe are scrambling to fill gas storage in time for winter and reduce their dependence on Russian energy imports. Germany has the largest economy in Europe; gas is important for fueling its industries, providing heat and, to some extent, generating electricity.

Last month, the government activated the second phase of Germany’s three-stage contingency plan for natural gas supplies, warning that Europe’s biggest economy was facing a “crisis” and that winter storage targets were threatened. On Wednesday, German gas storage was 65.1% full.

To fill the gaps, the German government has given utility companies the go-ahead to fire up 10 idle coal-fired power plants and six oil-fired ones. Eleven other coal-fired power plants that were due to close in November will be allowed to continue operating.


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