“He works.” Thursday, it is a little after 4am when Europe (and especially Germany) breathes again. The Nord Stream gas pipeline, which transports about a third of the 153 billion m3 of gas purchased annually by the EU, is back in service after ten days of annual maintenance. In a particularly tense context of the war in Ukraine and the showdown between Moscow and the West over energy, this direct link between the Siberian gas fields and northern Germany – from where the gas is then exported to other European countries – however remains under threat. Europe is preparing for a gas shortage this winter and for the energy company Gazprom, owner of the gas pipeline, to turn off the tap for good.
Read also: Replacing Russian hydrocarbons, the challenge for Europe
1. What is Nord Stream?
This gas pipeline has been at the heart of the confrontation between Europeans and Russians since the start of the war in Ukraine. 1,224 kilometers long and with a total capacity of 55.5 billion m3 per year, Nord Stream connects Russia to northern Germany via two pipelines passing under the Baltic Sea. In 2021, about 40% of Russian gas exports to the European Union passed through Nord Stream.
Operational since 2011, it belongs to the Russian Gazprom, which holds 51% of the shares. European energy companies including Eon, Wintershall, Gasunie and the French Engie share the rest of the capital.
2. Why is Germany so dependent on Russian gas?
Let’s go back in history. In the midst of the Cold War, the USSR decided to exploit its immense oil and gas resources and, in Europe, Germany manufactured the large-diameter pipes needed by Moscow. But on the other side of the Atlantic, Washington took a dim view of the development of the Russian hydrocarbons sector and succeeded in imposing an embargo on the export of German pipes.
It was not until 1966 and the lifting of this embargo that a historic agreement saw the light of day between the USSR and Germany: the “Pipes against gas” protocol was signed in 1970. Three years later, the Germany of the West receives its first shipments of Siberian crude. Imports are increasing, and at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Soviet Union accounted for about half of West Germany’s gas imports.
These good relations allow Germany to buy Russian gas at very favorable prices, giving a major competitive advantage to German industry. Especially since many German politicians, like the former chancellor
Conservative Angela Merkel is keeping the same line. She will recognize at the end of her mandate that maintaining close trade relations with Moscow was “in the interest” of Germany.
In 2011, the abrupt decision to commit Germany to phasing out nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, followed by the decision to phase out coal, left the country with little choice. While waiting for renewable energies to develop, gas must ensure the transition.
Blindness, naivety, economic interests: critics are now firing on the energy trap in which the country has locked itself, which has given itself until mid-2024 to emancipate itself from Russian gas, which still represents 35% of its imports .
Read also: Germany goes on the hunt for gas waste
3. How much gas will come out?
Despite its restart, uncertainty remains about the quantities transported via this pipeline, which is essential to avoid an energy crisis this winter. No data is yet available on the volumes of gas sent through the pipeline on Thursday. They should be known later today.
According to data transmitted by Gazprom to Gascade, the German network operator, the pipeline should deliver 530 GWh during the day. It would be only “30%” of its capacity, according to the boss of the German Network Agency, Klaus Müller. It would also be ten points less than before the works.
Arguing that there is no turbine under maintenance in Canada, Gazprom has already reduced deliveries via Nord Stream to 40% of capacity since mid-June.
Read also: Nicolas Mazzucchi: “Maintaining an energy channel is also maintaining a negotiation channel”
4. Should we expect a gas shortage this winter?
Even a restart at 40% of capacity would be insufficient to guarantee the supply of individuals and businesses throughout the winter.
Nord Stream transports around a third of the 153 billion m3 of gas purchased annually by the EU. However, Vladimir Putin hinted this week that the gas pipeline could only operate at 20% of its capacity as of next week. The fault, according to the Russian president, to faulty turbines which equip the pipeline.
In Europe, in addition to the shortages to be feared, the explosion in the cost of energy is already being felt and threatening recession in Western economies which are barely recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Individuals “will be shocked when they receive a letter from their energy supplier” with a tripling or even quadrupling of the bill at stake, alerted Klaus Müller, president of the German Federal Network Agency, to press the population. to reduce consumption.
The urgency is already there for the first gas storer in Germany, and as such the biggest customer of Gazprom: the energy group Uniper risks bankruptcy if it does not receive state aid in the very short term.
Read also: Switzerland has gas stored in preparation for the winter of all dangers
5. Pipeline turbines, a new instrument of pressure on Westerners?
According to Vladimir Putin, the faulty turbines of the pipeline prevent it from running at full speed.
A first of these turbines, which supply compressor stations, has just been repaired in Canada in the factories of the German group Siemens. It is still on its way to Russia.
However, a second turbine must, according to Vladimir Putin, go into maintenance next week, likely to further halve deliveries.
Gazprom’s decisions on gas deliveries have from the start been deemed “political” by the German government, which has repeatedly accused Russia of citing turbine problems as a “pretext”.
6. What about Nord Stream 2?
In 2015, Angela Merkel decided to launch the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia, the twin of Nord Stream 1, to double the capacity of Russian gas flows to Germany. The goal? Wait for renewable energies to develop, relying mainly on Russian gas.
This pharaonic project is worth years of tension in Berlin with Washington, which accuses its ally of increasing Vladimir Putin’s energy grip.a few days before the invasion of Ukraine.