Major gas pipeline linking Russia to Europe reopens
But energy flow after 10-day maintenance shutdown still short of full capacity
BERLIN — Natural gas started flowing through a major pipeline from Russia to Europe on Thursday after a 10-day shutdown for maintenance — but the gas flow remained well short of full capacity and the outlook was uncertain, which leaves Europe still facing the prospect of a hard winter.
Deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the Baltic Sea resumed at 40% of capacity, the level they had been at for weeks before annual maintenance. The German government announced that it would step up its gas storage requirements and take further measures to save gas.
The pipeline had been closed since July 11 for maintenance. Amid growing tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine, German officials had feared that the pipeline — the country’s main source of Russian gas, which recently has accounted for around a third of Germany’s gas supplies — might not reopen at all.
But the gas deliveries that were arriving still weren’t enough to resolve Europe’s energy crisis, and officials suspect that Russia is likely to disrupt supplies further. German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said the reduced supply “speaks a clear political language and confirms that we can’t rely on deliveries.”
“The outlook is simply extremely volatile,” said Klaus Mueller, the head of Germany’s network regulator. “We must save more to get through the next two winters well.”
Russia’s state-owned Gazprom reduced the flow through Nord Stream 1 by 60% in mid-June, citing technical problems involving equipment that partner Siemens Energy sent to Canada for overhaul and couldn’t be returned because of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Canadian government earlier this month gave permission for the turbine to be delivered to Germany.
The German government has rejected Gazprom’s technical explanation for the gas reduction, charging repeatedly that it was only a pretext for the Kremlin’s political decision to sow uncertainty and further push up energy prices. It has said the turbine was a replacement that was only supposed to be installed in September.
“Russia is using the great power it has — too great a power, which we gave Russia — to blackmail Europe,” said Habeck, who is also the economy minister and responsible for energy. He said of the turbine: “Sometimes one has the impression that Russia doesn’t want to take it back at all.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week that Gazprom still hadn’t received the documents for the turbine’s return, and questioned the quality of the repair work. Putin said Gazprom would shut another turbine for repairs in late July.
Habeck said the turbine was in Germany at the beginning of this week, and German authorities will say when it has reached Russia and been handed over to Gazprom.
The European Commission proposed this week that its 27 nations cut their gas use by 15% over the coming months as the bloc braces for a possible full Russian cutoff of gas supplies.