Europe is on edge about the restart of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline from Russia after annual maintenance is set to end on Thursday, with governments bracing for possible further supply cuts.
A planned outage on the biggest single pipeline carrying Russian gas to Germany started on July 11 and is expected to end at 0600 CET (0400 GMT) on July 21. It transports 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year of gas under the Baltic Sea.
If the outage is extended, the operator Nord Stream AG should make that clear on its website, where the flows section would indicate either a resumption or zero gas.
Nord Stream 1 in the last two years resumed gas deliveries on time after the maintenance that takes place every summer.
This July, the delay of a turbine being serviced in Canada and Gazprom’s declaration of force majeure to European customers, meaning it cannot guarantee delivery because of exceptional circumstances, has raised concerns of a prolonged outage.
Two sources familiar with Gazprom’s plans said that flows were likely to restart at pre-maintenance levels of 40% of the pipeline’s capacity.
The head of Germany’s energy regulator on Wednesday said he expected the pipeline to resume at around 30% of capacity based on nominations, or requests, for gas at Lubmin, where Nord Stream 1 makes landfall in Germany.
There is still time for those nominations to change before the maintenance is scheduled to end.
While better than no resumption, gas flows at reduced capacity would still have the effect of disrupting Europe’s storage plans and heightening a gas crisis that has prompted emergency measures from governments and painfully high bills for consumers.
As the West accuses Moscow of using its energy resources as a weapon, some European governments, such as Germany, have said any turbine delay could provide Russia with a pretext to extend maintenance.
Canada has said it had issued a permit for the turbine’s return, but it is not known when it will reach the Nord Stream pipeline.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also said it was not clear in what condition the turbine would be returned after the repairs in Canada, adding to uncertainty about the pipeline’s restart.
Russia insists it is a reliable supplier and dismisses Western charges it is using energy to blackmail Europe. It also accuses the West in its support for Ukraine of waging economic warfare against Moscow.
Russian gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM) has said the turbine is necessary for Nord Stream 1’s safety and has said it has not received documentation from Siemens Energy (ENR1n.DE), which maintained the turbine, that it needs to reinstall it.
Gazprom has not commented on its declaration of force majeure, retroactively dated from June 14 when Russia reduced gas flows to 40% of capacity, citing the missing turbine.
Traders, speaking on condition of anonymity, viewed the declaration as an attempt to protect Gazprom from any legal action over breach of contract.
Together with analysts and governments, they also braced for months of tension and possibly varying gas flows.
“With European leaders being determined to increase sanctions towards the Kremlin, the likelihood has increased that the Russian government will announce the next step in further cutting back the gas flows towards Europe as a counter reaction,” Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro, said.
Other analysts also expect flows to be cut further in the next months, but note Russia needs income as much as Europe needs gas.
“We think that the most likely scenario is that Nord Stream flows restart and move back to capacity when Gazprom receives the gas turbine from Siemens but risks remain of further reductions in the following weeks or months,” said analysts at investment bank Jefferies in a note.
“We believe that Russia’s aim is to prevent Europe from building gas inventories ahead of winter, keep gas prices high, maximise economic damage and retain leverage. The latter is not achieved if volumes are reduced to zero,” they added.
According to the Finland-based research organisation Centre for Research and Clean Air, Russia earned 24 billion euros ($24.6 billion) from pipeline gas revenues in the first 100 days of the Ukraine war (Feb. 24-June 3).
For Europe, too, the economic stakes are high.
About 32% of Europe’s of gas consumption comes from Russia, 90% of which is through pipelines. Russia is also heavily reliant on the European market, with 82% of its pipeline gas exports going to the continent, Barclays analysts said.
The European Commission has said a full cut-off of Russian gas supplies to Europe, if combined with a cold winter, could reduce average EU gross domestic product by up to 1.5% if countries do not prepare in advance.
The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said a full cut-off was “a likely scenario”, as the EU executive proposed a voluntary target for member states to cut gas use by 15% until March.
($1 = 0.9754 euros)