What will happen if Russia cuts gas supplies to Europe?

Gas prices in Europe soared as Russia launch a military operation in Ukraine.

Air raid mermaids sounded in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev last week as President Vladimir Putin ordered an attack on several cities – with missiles and troops sent into the country.

Videos captured by eyewitnesses show long lines of cars at gas stations across the country amid the sounds of explosions.

The United States announced on Wednesday that it would impose penalties on the company in charge of the construction of the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2.

The sanctions, which target Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers, are adding pressure on the Baltic Sea project which was to double gas flow capacity from Russia to Germany.

As Europe’s most controversial energy project, Nord Stream 2 has yet to begin operations pending certification by Germany and the European Union. This week, Germany halted the pipeline, worth $11 billion (9.8 billion euros), citing Russia’s actions toward Ukraine.

Where else can Europe get its supplies?

Europe depends on Russia for around 40% of its natural gas. Most go through pipelines, including Yamal-Europe, which goes through Belarus and Poland to Germany, and Nord Stream 1, which goes directly to Germany, and via Ukraine.

European gas markets are linked by a network of gas pipelines. Most countries have reduced their reliance on Russian gas over the years and there are also more supply routes that bypass Ukraine.

Last year, Ukraine was a transit corridor largely for gas entering Slovakia, from where it continued to Austria and Italy.

Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, it could impact flows through pipelines such as Yamal-Europe, Nord Stream 1 and TurkStream.

But even though sanctions have been imposed on Nord Stream 2, the European Commission has said that the current supply of European gas will not be affected since this gas pipeline is not yet operational.

Analysts at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies say other possibilities are that Russia suspends gas sales to Europe in retaliation for sanctions, or that a military conflict damages one of the pipelines that cross the Ukraine to transport gas to Europe.

Some countries have other options. For example, Germany, the largest consumer of Russian gas, can also import from Norway, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Denmark via gas pipelines.

But Norway, Europe’s second largest supplier, is delivering natural gas at full capacity and cannot replace missing supplies from Russia, its prime minister has said.

Southern Europe can receive Azeri gas via the Trans-Adriatic Gas Pipeline to Italy and the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) via Turkey.

Neighboring countries can transfer gas through interconnectors, but countries may not want to part with gas they might need and importers would have to pay a high price.

Barclays analysts say the full replacement of 150-190 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year of Russian gas to the EU is not feasible in the short term.

They add that Russian winter gas deliveries to the EU will be around 48 billion cubic meters (bcm) at current rates, down 30% year-on-year.

The European Union wants to require countries to fill their natural gas storage before each winter, to help build up stocks and deal with supply disruptions, according to a draft document seen by Reuters last week.

Russia said it would continue to provide uninterrupted supplies of natural gas to world markets, in a letter to an energy conference in Doha.

“We do not believe it is likely that Russia will cut gas supplies to Europe. Russia delivered gas to Europe during the Crimean crisis in 2014/15 after the imposition of selected sanctions in response, and at the height of the Cold War,” Barclays analysts said.

Could LNG replace gas imports from Russia?

Imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to northwestern Europe, particularly from the United States, reached a record level of around 11 billion m3 in January. But European LNG terminals have limited available capacity to absorb additional supply in the event of gas disruption from Russia.

Qatar, one of the world’s leading LNG producers, said neither it nor any other country has the capacity to replace Russian gas supplies to Europe with LNG, as most volumes are tied to long-term contracts and have clear destination clauses.

However, Germany on Sunday announced plans to build two liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said he wants to do more to protect Germany’s energy supply as the country seeks to reduce its dependence on Russian gas.

LNG is considered an even cleaner version of natural gas. But according to climate experts, it is “cleaner but not clean” and will not avert climate catastrophe.

Until batteries or other forms of energy storage become cheaper and more accessible, natural gas should serve as a simple complement to renewables, they say.

What are the non-gas options?

Several countries have options to fill the gap with electricity imports via neighbor interconnectors, or increased electricity generation from nuclear, renewables, hydro or coal.

But nuclear availability is declining in Germany, Britain, Belgium and France due to aging plants, decommissioning, phase-outs and frequent shutdowns.

Under pressure to meet climate targets, several EU countries have shut down old coal-fired power plants or are not building new ones.

Some countries retain coal-fired power stations for emergency supply. Europe has switched from gas to coal since the middle of last year due to high gas prices.

In past crises, countries have introduced measures to reduce industrial production at certain times, pay for emergency generators to turn on the supply, order households to reduce their energy consumption or impose temporary blackouts.

“Now let’s move to renewables at lightning speed… The faster we move, the faster we reduce our dependence on others,” the EU’s climate policy chief said on Friday. Frans Timmermans, in a tweet.

Has Europe’s gas supply ever been interrupted?

The last 15 years have seen several disputes between Russia and Ukraine over gas, mainly related to the prices paid.

In 2006, Gazprom cut supplies to Ukraine for one day. During the winter of 2008-2009, Russian supply disruptions spread across Europe. In 2014, Russia cut off supplies to Kiev after annexing Crimea. Ukraine stopped buying Russian gas in November 2015.

Fortunately, Ukraine has reduced its reliance on direct gas imports from Russia through a reverse flow mechanism, allowing it to import from EU countries.

The European Commission has said Europe could face a short-term disruption to Russian gas flows this time around. But analysts say a full or prolonged shutdown would have serious economic repercussions, requiring emergency measures like closing factories.

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