Berlin (CNSNews.com) – German authorities say a surprise announcement by the Russian state-owned natural gas provider Gazprom about a three-day maintenance shutdown for the undersea Russia-to-Germany pipeline is unfounded, but are seeking to allay concerns about supply ahead of the coming winter.
Gazprom announced on Friday that the flow of gas to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline would be suspended from August 31 to September 2, for “maintenance” reasons.
Klaus Müller, president of the Federal Network Agency, a regulatory body, on Tuesday called the maintenance shutdown “technically incomprehensible.”
“We won’t know until the beginning of September whether Russia will do it again,” he said after a meeting with the Lower Saxony state government. “Probably only the Russian president knows.”
The news renewed concerns about reliability of supply and sent gas prices soaring to a new record high of 280 euros ($279) per megawatt hour.
The regulator stressed, however, that a buildup of German supplies are mostly on track.
“Gas storage facilities in Germany are being filled at an admirable speed,” Müller said. “Three quarters of the storage facilities are already more than 80 percent full.”
Gazprom reported last week that it has provided 78.5 billion cubic metres of gas to Europe since January, 44.6 bcm less that over the same period in 2021.
Müller conceded that, under such conditions, Germany would not be able to guarantee reaching a government-mandated target of having all storage systems at 95 percent full by November.
“But every cubic meter of gas counts,” he said.
Nevertheless, supply fears stoked renewed debate about Nord Stream 2, the controversial pipeline project that was launched in 2011 and completed in late 2021, before being suspended indefinitely by the German government due to Russia’s invasion into Ukraine.
Free Democrat (FDP) politician and vice president of the German parliament, Wolfgang Kubicki, called at the weekend for Nord Stream 2 to go ahead.
“We should open Nord Stream 2 as soon as possible to fill our gas storage tanks for the winter,” he told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) news service, adding that there was “no reasonable reason” not to do so.
The proposal attracted opposition from most of the political spectrum – including his own party – with only the far-right Alternative für Deutschland and the left-wing, Russia-friendly Left party the exceptions.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck shot down the idea, saying that reopening Nord Stream 2 would amount to saying indirectly that Russian President Vladimir Putin was right.
“Who gives us the guarantee that he won’t do the same thing with Nord Stream 2?” Habeck said, referring to the supply reductions and interruptions of Nord Stream 1.
Even Manuela Schwesig, the prime minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state who has long drawn criticism for a perceived Russia-friendly policy and close connections to Nord Stream 2, rejected Kubicki’s call to make the pipeline operational.
Instead, in an interview with broadcaster ZDF she proposed repurposing the Nord Stream distribution infrastructure to help solve problems limiting Germany’s ability to import sufficient supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
It is unclear whether such a move would raise legal or other challenges. Incidentally, Russia has already hinted that it could use infrastructure on its end of the Nord Stream 2 system for other purposes.
“In the current situation, a decision was made to use the Nord Stream 2 infrastructure located on the territory of our country for gasification of the North-West of Russia,” Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin said in a weekend interview with TASS.
Pankin also blamed restrictions of supply through Nord Stream 1 on “the current anti-Russian sanctions of Canada, the E.U. and the U.K.
The LNG infrastructure problems cited by Schwesig were also raised by Habeck on Tuesday.
He told RND that while German companies have bought “enough gas on the world market,” the real problem was not one of supply but of infrastructure limitations.
“In Germany the problem is not the availability of LNG,” he said. “The real problem is the lack of availability of an alternative infrastructure to the Russian gas pipelines.”
Two floating LNG terminals are scheduled to go into operation, but not before the end of the year.
As it scrambles to find alternative supplies to those from Russia, German has been grappling with debates over restarting coal-fired energy plants or extending the life of nuclear power stations beyond their planned end-of-year closure.
Kubicki’s call to activate Nord Stream 2 also drew criticism from Polish President Andrzej Duda, who said there could be no return to normality in relations with Moscow.
At a summit in Kyiv, he said the West should not just suspend the project but completely dismantle it.
Michael Hüther, head of the German Economic Institute, said even if Nord Stream 2 was made operational, Putin could simply find excuses to cut off the flow.
“The sanctions are right because the West is showing its solidarity with Ukraine,” he said. “Germany decided on the measures in close cooperation with the transatlantic partners; Germany should not now withdraw from this solidarity.”
Hüther conceded that Germany’s energy dependence on Russia was making it difficult, but said that, ultimately,Russian policies were helping to accelerate the German economy’s move towards non-fossil fuel future.
Chief commodities analyst at SEB Research, Bjarne Schieldrop, warned that Putin will try to draw out the energy crisis as much as possible.
“Our strong view is that the energy situation in the E.U. for the coming autumn and winter is going to be extremely difficult,” he said in a research note. “Putin will play this for all it is worth.”
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