A major gas pipeline from Russia to Germany shut down for annual maintenance on Monday, as Berlin grew concerned that Moscow may not resume the flow of gas as scheduled.
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Germany’s main source of Russian gas, is scheduled to be out of action until July 21 for routine work that the operator says includes “testing of mechanical elements and automation systems”.
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The operator’s data showed the gas flow dropping as planned on Monday morning.
But German officials are suspicious about Russia’s intentions, particularly after Russia’s Gazprom last month reduced the gas flow through Nord Stream 1 by 60 percent.
Gazprom cited technical problems involving a gas turbine powering a compressor station that partner Siemens Energy sent to Canada for overhaul.
That turbine could not be returned because of sanctions imposed over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Canada said over the weekend that it would allow the part to be delivered to Germany, citing the “very significant hardship” that the German economy would suffer without a sufficient gas supply.
German politicians have dismissed Russia’s technical explanation for last month’s reduction in gas flows through Nord Stream 1, saying the decision was a political gambit to sow uncertainty and push up prices.
German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck had said he suspects that Russia may cite “some little technical detail” as a reason not to resume gas deliveries through the pipeline after this month’s maintenance.
However, a spokesperson for the economy ministry said that while Germany is in a serious situation when it comes to its gas supply, the security of supply is currently guaranteed.
Uncertainty post-maintenance period
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline transports 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year of gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The head of Germany’s network regulator, the Bundesnetzagentur, said “no one can say exactly” whether the gas will be switched back on.
“As expected, Nord Stream 1 is at zero since this morning,” Klaus Mueller, head of the Bundesnetzagentur, told Reuters on Monday.
“What happens at the end of the maintenance, nobody is able to say at this moment. We won’t know any time sooner than a day before its scheduled end.”
Mueller said that gas consumers have lobbied Bundesnetzagentur for priority treatment in the event of potential gas rationing later in the year.
The regulator would base allocation decisions on their social and economic impact and consequences for delivery chains, Mueller said. Such decisions would be taken in October with the help of an IT platform, he added.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of using spurious pretexts to strangle gas flows in retaliation for sanctions over the invasion, which Russia describes as a “special military operation”.
The Kremlin denies the manipulation of gas flows or using energy as a political weapon.
Meanwhile, Germany and the rest of Europe are scrambling to fill gas storage in time for winter and reduce their dependence on Russian energy imports.
Germany, home to Europe’s biggest economy, has been getting about 35 percent of its gas to power industry and generate electricity from Russia.