Russia’s Gazprom is tightening its squeeze on Europe as it announced Monday it is set to further cut natural gas flows through its single best gas link to Germany, citing equipment repairs.
The move escalates tensions over dwindling energy supplies just as the continent is trying to shore up its storage for winter.
Supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany will drop to just 20% of capacity from 4 a.m. GMT on Wednesday, Gazprom noted, saying it was shutting down a second turbine for repairs.
The Russian state-owned company tweeted it would reduce “the daily throughput” of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to 33 million cubic meters per day – a halving of the current, already reduced level – because it needed to halt the operation of a Siemens gas turbine at a compressor station on instructions from an industry watchdog.
The head of Germany's network regulator confirmed the reduction. The pipeline, which has a capacity of 55 billion cubic meters a year, is the single biggest Russian gas link to Europe.
“The halving of the nomination of NordStream1 was announced for the day after tomorrow,” tweeted Klaus Mueller.
Deliveries on Monday were at 40% of full capacity when Nord Stream 1 reopened after 10 days of scheduled maintenance last week. The German government said it rejected the notion that technical reasons would lead to further gas reductions.
“We are monitoring the situation very closely in close exchange with the federal network agency and the gas crisis team,” the German Economy Ministry said in a statement Monday after Gazprom’s announcement. “According to our information, there is no technical reason for a reduction in deliveries.”
Natural gas is used to keep industry humming, generate electricity and heat homes in the winter, and concerns are rising about a possible recession if Europe does not save enough gas and rationing is required to get through the cold months.
Russia has cut off or reduced natural gas to a dozen European Union countries. The EU’s goal is to use less gas now to build storage for winter, proposing that member states voluntarily cut their gas use by 15% over the coming months.
It is also seeking the power to impose mandatory cuts across the 27-nation bloc if there’s a risk of a severe gas shortage or exceptionally high demand.
But Spain and Portugal say they will reject mandatory cuts at an emergency meeting Tuesday, pointing to few energy connections with the rest of Europe and use of Russian gas that's far below countries like Germany and Italy.
Russia recently has accounted for about a third of Germany’s gas supplies. The government said last week that the reduction in gas flows confirmed that Germany can’t rely on Russian deliveries, announcing that it would step up its gas storage requirements and take further measures to conserve supplies.
Germany was forced last week to announce a $15 billion bailout of Uniper, its biggest company importing gas from Russia.
President Vladimir Putin had foreshadowed the latest cut, warning the West this month that continued sanctions risked triggering catastrophic energy price rises for consumers around the world.
Gazprom's announcement of reductions comes after it raised questions earlier Monday about the return of a different turbine that has been at the center of tensions over Nord Stream 1 deliveries, saying it isn't satisfied with documents it has received.
Gazprom initially reduced the gas flow through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline by 60% in mid-June, citing alleged technical problems involving the part that partner Siemens Energy sent to Canada for overhaul and couldn’t be returned because of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Canada subsequently allowed the turbine for a compressor station at the pipeline’s Russian end to be delivered to Germany. That is where the German government said it was last week.
Germany has repeatedly rejected Gazprom’s technical explanations for gas reductions, saying it was only a pretext for the Kremlin’s political decision to sow uncertainty and further push up energy prices.
In a statement on Twitter, Gazprom said it had received documents for the turbine issued by Canadian authorities but after studying them, “had to conclude that they do not eliminate the previously identified risks and give rise to additional questions.”
It also asserted that issues regarding European Union and British sanctions “remain unresolved for Gazprom,” though that resolution is important for delivering the turbine “and performing urgent major repair of other turbine engines” for the same compressor station.
The company said it had requested “prompt support” from Siemens Energy to clarify. Germany says all concerned have been informed that the part isn't subject to EU sanctions, and Siemens Energy said it had no update.
Russia is the world's second largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and the world's largest exporter of natural gas. Europe imports about 40% of its gas and 30% of its oil from Russia.