Germany on edge as Russian gas pipeline goes offline for repair
By Melissa Eddy
The flow of natural gas from Russia to Germany via a crucial undersea pipeline stopped Monday, as the link went offline for a 10-day scheduled maintenance period, testing Europe’s resolve to wean itself off abundant Russian fuel supplies.
Despite sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow for invading Ukraine, Germany still draws 30% of its natural gas from Russia, much of it used to power its economically important industrial sector. Other European Union countries, including Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic, also receive gas via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
The pipeline’s majority owner, Russian energy giant Gazprom, cut the flow of gas by 60% last month, driving energy prices to record levels. The move has forced Germany to raise its gas emergency alert level to the second of three stages — the third and final stage would permit the government to begin gas rationing — and pass a law to bail out utility companies and bring coal-fired power plants back online.
Officials in Berlin now worry that Gazprom could take advantage of the routine shutdown to cut off supply altogether, stymieing Germany’s plans to fill the country’s gas storage reserves by November to bolster supplies for the winter. Facilities across the country are just above 63% full, but if Russia turns off all supply beyond the 10-day maintenance period, that target could become unreachable.
“It’s simply a situation like we haven’t had before,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister, told German public radio Deutschlandfunk on Monday. “We honestly always have to prepare for the worst and work a little bit for the best.”
Chancellor Olaf Scholz convened the heads of big German companies in Berlin on Monday to discuss the impact that the war in Ukraine and the economic sanctions against Russia are having on their businesses. Industry leaders are faced with high energy prices and growing uncertainty while they are struggling to emerge from disruptions caused by pandemic shutdowns and supply chain snarls. Economists are predicting that a full gas cutoff could tip Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into a recession.
Over the weekend, Habeck reached an agreement with Canada for a turbine needed for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that had been sent to Montreal for repairs to be returned to Germany. The turbine’s return had been held up by sanctions against Russia, and Gazprom had cited the missing equipment as the reason it was forced to reduce supplies through the pipeline.
Analysts at the Brussels think tank Bruegel predict that Germany would need to cut its consumption of natural gas by 29% to prevent storage from running dry if Russian gas was permanently cut off.