Europe’s energy crisis deepened on Friday after Russian energy giant Gazprom said it could not resume natural gas supplies via a major pipeline to Germany at this time. The company cited what it said was a need for urgent maintenance work to repair key components – in an announcement made just hours before deliveries resumed.
Russia’s state-owned energy company had shut down the Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Wednesday for what it expected to be three days of maintenance.
He said in a social media post on Friday evening that he had identified “malfunctions” in one turbine and added that the pipeline would not operate unless these were fixed.
The move was the latest development in a saga in which Gazprom cited technical issues as the reason for cutting gas flows through Nord Stream 1 – explanations that German officials dismissed as cover for a political power play after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
European utilities have scrambled to find extra supply in the summer months to prepare for winter heating demands, buying expensive liquefied gas that arrives by ship, while extra supplies have arrived by pipeline from Norway and Azerbaijan.
Fears of a winter shortage have eased somewhat as storage has progressed, but a complete shutdown could present serious challenges to Europe, analysts say. The European Union must step up its efforts to reduce gas consumption, said energy policy expert Simone Tagliapietra of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels.
Gazprom’s continued outages mean that “a winter without Russian gas is the central scenario for Europe.” he said. “There is only one way to prepare for it: reduce the demand for gas and electricity.”
Gazprom said it identified oil leaks from four turbines at the Portovaya compressor station at the Russian end of the pipeline, including the only operational one. He said he received warnings from Russia’s industrial safety watchdog that the leaks “do not allow safe and trouble-free operation of the gas turbine engine”.
“In this context, it is necessary to take appropriate measures and suspend the operation of the gas compressor unit … in connection with the identified serious (security) violations,” the company said.
Gazprom started cutting supplies via Nord Stream 1 in mid-June, experiencing delays in the delivery of a turbine that had been sent to Canada for repair. Canada has since authorized delivery of the turbine to Germany, which has stated that nothing stands in the way that he be sent to Russia other than Russia saying he wants the part.
In recent weeks, Nord Stream 1 has operated at only 20% capacity.
Germany’s Siemens Energy, which made the turbines, said following Gazprom’s announcement that “such a discovery is not a technical reason to stop operation.”
“Such leaks generally do not affect the operation of a turbine and can be patched in place,” he said in a statement. He added that this is “a routine procedure during maintenance work” and that this type of leak has not caused operations to stop in the past.
Siemens Energy said it was not currently under contract for maintenance work, but was standing by. “Regardless of this, we have already stressed on several occasions that there are enough additional turbines available at the Portovaya compressor station to keep Nord Stream 1 running,” he added.
Russia, which before the start of the cuts accounted for just over a third of Germany’s gas supplies, has also cut the flow of gas to other European countries that have sided with Ukraine in the war.
Natural gas is used to power industry, heat homes and offices, and generate electricity. Increasing the amount in reserve has been one of the main goals of the German government since Russia invaded Ukraine, to avoid rationing for industry as demand increases in winter.
German storage facilities are now more than 84% full.
The head of Germany’s grid regulator Klaus Mueller tweeted that Russia’s decision to keep Nord Stream 1 off for now increases the importance of new liquefied natural gas terminals that Germany plans to start operate this winter, gas storage and “significant needs to save gas.
It’s “although Germany is now better prepared, but now it’s up to everyone,” Mueller added.
Germany’s economy ministry said it had “taken note” of Gazprom’s latest announcement and would not comment on it directly, but added that “we have already seen Russia’s unreliability these weeks” and continued its efforts to reduce the country’s dependence on Russian energy imports.
“Of course, these are difficult times but we will continue to strengthen the provisions consistently,” the ministry said in a statement. “Big efforts are still needed but we are on the right track to deal with the situation.”
The European Union has just met its target of filling its gas storage to 80%, before the November 1 deadline, despite Russian supply cuts.
–Geir Moulson and Joanna Kozlowska, Associated Press
Kozlowska contributed from London. David McHugh from Frankfurt, Germany also contributed to this story.