Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian War, the European Union (EU) has been imposing sanctions on Russia, allegedly to punish the said nation. Moscow, on the other hand, is attempting to divide the EU’s member states by exploiting the latter’s need on Russian energy. European nations are looking for an alternative to Russian natural gas as the energy sector experiences new developments. In this context, the explosions that occurred in the Nord Stream Natural Gas Pipelines have been on the continent’s agenda.
Based on this, the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) has conducted an interview with Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS) Senior Energy Journalist Dr. Aura Sabasus to evaluate Europe’s energy agenda. Here we present to you Sabadus’ point of view on the matter.
- After the Russia-Ukraine war, Europe fell into an energy crisis. As response to the war G7 countries decided to impose a price cap on Russian oil. Then, Russia also stopped the flow of gas in the Nord Stream-1 Gas Pipeline. How do you evaluate the process that has taken place?
There were issues with the turbine, according to Russia’s official statement on cutting off the flows from the Nord Stream-1 Natural Gas Pipeline. The turbines were sent to Canada to be repaired. According to the Russian version of the story, there were issues returning it because of sanctions. These issues were clarified and the sanctions were partially lifted so that the turbines could be returned to Germany to be reinserted. However, following the maintenance procedures, natural gas still did not flow. It continued to send limited amount of natural gas. And then it was completely cut off.
The main reason for the interruption in question is the Russian-Ukrainian War. Because of the war, Moscow wants the EU to suffer through problems. Russia is using energy as a blackmail material for the lifting of the sanctions.
The drop in Russian natural gas can be cited as another factor. In 2021, Europe received about 30% of its natural gas from Russia. This percentage is quite high. Therefore, Moscow thought that Europe could not cope with the problem of dependence on Russian gas, and it was right.
Every time Russia made a statement about natural gas flows, the price of natural gas continued to increase, and then it was understood that it was cutting the gas flow. The price of natural gas has risen by 15% to 20% since the start of the conflict due to speculations that Russia will shut off supplies or make additional statements. Therefore, blocking the flow of natural gas is neither unique to Nord Stream nor a recent development.
- Winter is approaching, and Russia is cutting off its natural gas supply. What are the EU’s alternatives in light of the impending winter, in your opinion? How is Europe managing the energy crisis?
When compared to the same period in 2022, imports till mid-September of 2021 have dropped by 50%. However, the year is not over yet. We still have spring months to go and there has been a lot of LNG coming in to Europe. Furthermore, Norway now contributes 11 billion cubic meters of natural gas, which means that its average annual supply to Europe has increased significantly. At this point, the contribution of some countries, such as Azerbaijan, is undeniable. Some increases were also seen from other suppliers, but these were limited due to the non-operational pipelines. Therefore, the most obvious option for the EU is LNG.
New LNG terminals are currently being built across the continent. For this reason, there may be increases in LNG supply in the coming period. The Netherlands, for example, has installed two floating LNG Storage and Gasification Units (FSRU) and imports more than in the past. Germany also expects to bring in three FSRUs between December 2022 and March 2023. In addition, Estonia and Finland have a joint FSRU project that is expected to be operational in December 2022. In addition, Poland inaugurated a pipeline in October that connects to Norway. So, the first gas is expected to come in on October 1, 2022.
On the other hand, the EU’s storage capacity keeps an additional use option on the side. Despite limited supplies, countries have been very diligent about filling their natural gas warehouses. While the mandated storage target by the EU was 80% by October 1, 2022, many countries have announced that they are approaching 90%.
The EU has also come up with the idea of encouraging consumers to reduce their consumption in order to survive this winter. In Northwestern Europe, industrial demand from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands fell by 22% on a five-year average as of September 1, 2022. Demand reduction is critically important because it saves gas.
The Northern Hemisphere’s heating season will start on October 1, 2022. Therefore, there will be an increase in natural gas demand. There is a very strong campaign in energy consuming countries like Germany and France to ask households to reduce consumption. It is not compulsory, but Germans have been rushing to replace gas heating with any forms of renewable options to reduce demand.
It is premature to say that Europe has successfully managed the energy crisis. The difficult part has yet to come since Europe has yet to face winter. The most decisive factor here is whether the winter months will be mild or not. If the winter is warmer than expected, Europe is not expected to have problems. However, apparently, Nord Stream Natural Gas Pipelines have been destroyed by explosions. Infrastructure can therefore be vulnerable; but, in a typical scenario with a mild winter and no physical or cyber attacks on infrastructure, Russia will not be able to give the EU any further issues, and Europe will be able to survive the winter. If the winter season is long and colder than expected, Europe will be challenged. It is also intriguing to wonder how the situation will be handled if Russia’s policy of causing unrest in Europe and Ukraine through energy continues.
- As you know, there have been explosions in the Nord Stream Gas Pipelines recently. What do you believe is the cause of the explosions? How will the explosions have an impact on the energy crisis?
Exact explanations about the cause of the explosions have not yet been made. It should be stressed that the situation remains ambiguous. Although there are speculations from various sources, it is too early to talk about a “deliberate” attack.
The first information that reached the media was that there had been three explosions; later, the public was informed of the fourth explosion. In order to comment on this issue, it is necessary to wait for the results of the investigation. One thing is for certain, though: Russia is intently monitoring the developments.
Examining Nord Stream’s official website reveals that there is a section where they discuss the security of the pipeline. Authorities ensure security through sensors, UAVs and other vehicles. So, an attack on the pipeline would have been seen by Russia. However, no explanation has been provided regarding this. So, it is intriguing to consider the likelihood that Russia has observed potential offensive activities conduct and failed to inform the relevant nations. It is necessary to wait for the outcomes of the research, which is being conducted rapidly, to become clear before making a conclusive statement.
Dr. Aura SABADUS
Senior journalist Aura Sabadus specializes in energy markets. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and written and taught about energy markets, Turkey, Ukraine, Romania, and the Caspian region. Aura is an associate research scientist at the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) and holds a PhD in international relations from King’s College London. Sabadus is a Senior Energy Journalist working with Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS) and is continuing her publications.