Gazprom has halted gas flows into the Nord Stream 1 pipeline for the next three days to complete maintenance work, raising the chilling prospect of further cuts to supplies from Russia this winter.
The Kremlin-backed gas giant has been ramping up pressure on the West in recent weeks, with its last round of maintenance in July resulting in gas flows being cut from 40 to 20 per cent of capacity following a dispute over a turbine.
European governments fear Russia could extend the latest outage in retaliation for Western sanctions targeting coal imports and seaborne oil shipment, which were imposed after the country invaded Ukraine.
Further restrictions to European gas supplies could deepen an energy crunch that has already triggered a 400 per cent surge in wholesale gas prices since last August, squeezing consumers and businesses and forcing governments to spend billions to ease the burden.
Unlike last month’s 10 day period of maintenance, this was only announced two weeks in advance.
However, Gazprom has argued the latest shutdown is needed to perform essential work on the pipeline’s only remaining compressor at the Portovaya station in Russia, which had to carried out jointly with Siemens specialists.
Siemens Energy has previously carried out maintenance work on compressors and turbines at the station in the past.
It has said it was not involved in the maintenance, but stood ready to advise Gazprom if needed.
Earlier this week, Gazprom announced it would suspend gas deliveries to its French contractor Engie because of a payments dispute, which France’s energy minister later labelled as an excuse – although it had anticipated the loss of supply.
Since the country invaded Ukraine, Gazprom has reduced flows into 12 European Union member states – stopping supplies entirely into Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Poland.
German regulator bullish over supplies
Despite the latest blow to supplies, the president of the German network regulator argued the country was now better prepared for the outages as its gas storage was nearly 85 per cent filled – as it was securing supplies from other sources such as liquefied natural gas from overseas.
Klaus Mueller said on Twitter: “We can take gas from the storage in the winter, we are saving gas (and need to keep doing so!), the LNG terminals are coming, and thanks to Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway (and soon France), gas is flowing.”
With storage tanks filled in 83.65 per cent, Germany is already close to its 85 per cent target set for 1 October. but it has warned reaching 95 per cent by November would be a stretch unless companies and households slash consumption.
The EU as a whole reached 80.17 per cent of its storage capacity, already ahead of the 80 per cent target set for October, when the continent’s heating season starts.
Nevertheless, the embattled trading bloc remains on an emergency footing, with multiple member states agreeing to voluntary 15 per cent cuts to consumption.
There have also been calls for further rationing, with countries such as Germany and Spain already bringing in measures to limit energy consumption, such as limiting heating and air conditioning within public buildings.
Russia has accused the German government of doing everything it could to ruin its energy relations with Moscow.
Meanwhile, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, remains committed to the country’s plans to replace Russian gas imports by mid-2024.
Earlier this month, he said Nord Stream 1 was “fully operational” and argued there were no technical issues as claimed by Moscow.