Nord Stream 1: Russia’s Gazprom halts pipeline gas flow to Europe amid energy crisis

Moscow dealt Euripe a serious blow by cutting off Nord Stream 1, a major gas pipeline, as an energy crisis grips the continent.

Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Germany on Wednesday, saying supplies via Nord Stream 1 were “completely stopped” by “preventive work” on a compressor unit, shortly after the European network operator ENTSOG gas announced that deliveries had ceased.

Gazprom has also said it would suspend gas supplies to France’s main supplier, Engie, from Thursday after it failed to pay for all deliveries made in July.

The latest stop comes as European countries have grappled with rising energy prices since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February and subsequently cut its gas deliveries to the region.

Germany, which relies heavily on Russian gas, has accused Moscow of using energy as a “weapon”.

But Gazprom has said the three-day maintenance work was “necessary” and had to be carried out after “every 1,000 operating hours”.

The head of Germany’s Federal Network Agency, Klaus Mueller, called it a “technically incomprehensible” decision, warning that it was probably just a pretext for Moscow to use power supplies as a threat.

Experience shows that Moscow “makes a political decision after every so-called maintenance,” he said, adding that “we will only know in early September if Russia does that again.”

With winter just around the corner, European consumers are preparing to pay huge energy bills. Some countries like France have warned that rationing is a possibility. In the UK, it is feared that some people will find it difficult to pay for heating and eat.

The European Union is preparing to take emergency measures to reform the electricity market to rein in skyrocketing prices, and energy ministers are due to hold extraordinary talks next week.

Asked if the gas supply would resume after the three-day work was completed on Saturday, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “there is a guarantee that, apart from the technical problems caused because of the sanctions, nothing interferes with the supply”.

Western capitals “have imposed sanctions against Russia, which do not allow normal maintenance, repair work,” he added, in what seemed to hint at a repeat of an earlier round of start-stop gibberish.

Gazprom had already carried out 10 days of long-scheduled maintenance work in July. Although it restored gas flows after the works, it drastically reduced supplies only a few days later, citing a technical problem with a turbine.

The Russian company insists that a key turbine could not be shipped to Russia due to sanctions on Moscow. But Germany, where the turbine was located, has said that Moscow was blocking delivery of the component to Russia.

An official from Gascade, which operates the distribution network within Germany, was also skeptical of Gazprom’s latest actions.

“In July, it was a long-planned regular maintenance by Nord Stream 1, this time it was unplanned and we don’t know what’s behind this operation,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

A day before the new lockdown, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany was now “in a much better position” in terms of energy security, having reached its gas storage targets much sooner than expected.

Germany’s gas storage tanks were now at nearly 85 percent capacity, said Mueller, who assessed that “Germany is better prepared for the new Nord Stream ‘maintenance’.”

Europe as a whole was also making progress in filling its gas storage tanks. On Sunday, storage levels were already at 79.9 percent of capacity in the EU.

At the same time, fears about limited supply have also led companies to drastically reduce their energy consumption.

Germany’s industry consumed 21.3 percent less gas in July than the average for the month from 2018 to 2021, the Federal Network Agency said.

Mueller has said such preemptive action “could save Germany from a gas emergency this winter.”

And Europe’s largest economy was already racing to turn its back on Russian gas. In the German coastal city of Lubmin, where Nord Stream 1 comes ashore, plans are already underway to switch to liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The LNG, transported by ships, will arrive at the industrial port of Lubmin and be converted back into gas and pumped into the Gascade distribution network, which has so far been used to channel Russian gas throughout the country.

“We hope to be able to inject gas into the distribution network on December 1,” said Stephan Knabe of Deutsche ReGas, the company that manages the LNG project.

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