Russia’s Gazprom keeps gas pipeline to Germany turned off

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Russian energy giant Gazprom has postponed a Saturday deadline to restore flows via a crucial gas supply route to Europe, citing an oil leakage in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline discovered during maintenance.

The energy company had shut down the pipeline on Wednesday for what it said would be three days of maintenance, but said in a social media post on Friday evening that it had identified “malfunctions” of a turbine.

“Gas transmission via the Nord Stream pipeline has been fully shut down until the operational defects in the equipment are eliminated,” Gazprom said in a statement, without providing a new timetable for when flows will resume.

The move compounds Europe’s difficulties in securing enough fuel for the approaching cold winter months, as Nord Stream 1 provides much-needed supplies to Germany and other European nations.

Moscow has blamed sanctions imposed by the West following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for impeding routine maintenance on the pipeline, but some European Union officials have accused Russia of using energy as a weapon.

“This is part of Russia’s psychological war against us,” tweeted Michael Roth, chair of the German parliamentary foreign affairs committee.

Siemens Energy, which regularly maintains Nord Stream 1 turbines, said on Friday that the leak Gazprom said had been found typically was no reason to halt gas flow, as its repair fell within the scope of maintenance work.

“Such leaks do not normally affect the operation of a turbine and can be sealed on site,” the company said in a statement. “In the past, too, the occurrence of this type of leak has not led to a shutdown of operations.”

Adding that it was currently not contracted to work on that specific maintenance issue, Siemens said it had “pointed out several times that there are sufficient other turbines available at the Portovaya compressor station for Nord Stream 1 to operate”.

Since August 2021, wholesale gas prices have soared 400 percent, hitting European industry and consumers hard as demand surged after pandemic lockdowns were lifted and then worsened after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen earlier suggested imposing a price restriction on Russian pipeline gas to counter what she said was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “manipulations”.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned that Russia would cut off supplies to Europe if the EU imposes such a price cap.

Reduced Nord Stream deliveries, along with limited gas flows via Ukraine, another important route, have left European countries scrambling to fill storage tanks for winter.

Many countries are considering enacting emergency measures that would urge businesses and households to ration and cut back on their energy use. Some major European firms, such as fertiliser and aluminium companies, have already reduced output due to soaring energy prices.

‘Better prepared’

In response to Gazprom’s decision on Friday, Germany’s network regulator said the country was better prepared to deal with a disruption in Russian supply, but also warned that individuals and businesses would have to cut back on use.

“It’s good that Germany is now better prepared, but now it’s down to each and everyone,” Klaus Mueller, president of the Bundesnetzagentur, said on Twitter.

That was echoed by a spokeswoman for the economy ministry, who said in a statement that “the situation on the gas market is tense, but security of supply is guaranteed”.

The spokeswoman did not comment on the “substance” of Gazprom’s announcement, but said Germany had “already seen Russia’s unreliability in the past few weeks”.

After Gazprom decreased flows in June and then again in July, EU officials have been bracing for the potential that Russia may suspend deliveries entirely.

On Wednesday, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said the West’s sanctions on Russia had prevented Siemens Energy, a pipeline equipment supplier, from doing routine maintenance.

“It’s not the fault of Gazprom that the resources are missing,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier on Friday. “Therefore, the reliability of the entire system is at risk.”

Pipes at the landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline are pictured in Lubmin, Germany [File: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters]

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