What would happen if Russian President Vladimir Putin decided tomorrow to suspend gas shipments to all of Europe as he did this week to Poland and Bulgaria? Would there be sufficient reserves to continue current consumption? The short answer is no. The long is also no.
European gas reserves have never been so low in recent years. And it’s not just a lack of foresight, it’s that Gazprom has been sending less and less gas since the start of the war. As a geopolitical weapon that is to say that the energy is used by Russia to put pressure on the Europeans and above all to try to divide them.
While the Europeans are trying to reduce their dependence on hydrocarbons from Moscow at full speed, Russia is pressing by gently closing the taps.
The Euro-Russian game of hydrocarbons is asymmetrical. Gas represents only a quarter of European payments to Russia for hydrocarbons (the other three quarters concern oil), but looking for other gas suppliers is much more complicated because gas pipelines cannot be built from the Persian Gulf or the United States.
This gas must be liquefied to be shipped on LNG tankers and regasified again in Europe. It’s more expensivemore complex logistically and more difficult to reach the volumes arriving by gas pipeline.
The Gazprom building in Saint Petersburg, Russia. PhotoEFE
If Europe is going faster and faster to stop buying Russian oil (the political authorization could already be given this Monday), Moscow is tightening up by slowly closing the gas taps.
War broke out on February 24. For a few days, the supply continues at a normal rate, almost 400 million cubic meters per day. But since then they have been reduced until they remain in recent days below 300 million cubic meters.
The reduction is not the same for everyone. Shipments via the Nordstream I, which goes directly to Germany, stay at normal levels but those passing through the gas pipelines that cross Belarus and Ukraine fall to less than half.
These discounts drive up the price due to the lower supply. The Dutch TTF, the reference price for gas futures, rose again this week above 125 euros Mwh whereas it had fallen in recent weeks to 90 euros per Mwh. We are still far from the February peak, when he was paid above 220 euros.
Reservations pay all these conditions. Since the spring of 2021, as if Russia were preparing for war, the reserves have been falling. With a late winter across most of Europe in 2022, reserves were used more than usual. Now they’re starting to fill up little by little but they are at the minimum level and the reduction in Russian supplies does not help.
This week, they are on average in Europe at 32%, below what is usual for this time of year.
Poland is the country that seems to have seen them coming and has its reserves at 76%. But other countries have them much lower: Belgium at 14%, Bulgaria at 17%, Austria at 18%, the Netherlands at 26%, Germany at 34%, Italy at 35 %. In Spain they are at 61%, the equivalent of 21.52 TWh.
The European Commission has asked governments that no later than 1 November have reserves of at least 80% of its capacity, which will be impossible if Russia continues to reduce its supplies. Brussels is trying to prevent gas supply cuts for industry or domestic heating from being applied next winter.
The level of dependence on Russia also varies. Portugal, Ireland or Spain would see no change if tomorrow more Russian gas did not arrive in Europe. They would be the only ones. Countries like Belgium, the Netherlands or France (less than 10% of the gas they import is Russian) would have quick solutions.
From there, the dependency grows (33% in Italy, 54% in Germany) as far as Estonia, Finland or Bulgaria, which are 100% dependent on Russia for their gas supply. Bulgaria could receive more via Greece, but Estonia and Finland only with LNG carriers.