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Putin Is Getting Ready to Put The Energy Screws On Europe

Foriegn Policy

The new pipeline won’t deliver energy security. It will make the EU more dependent on a capricious Russia.

There is something Orwellian about the Russian energy giant Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will take natural gas from Russia to Europe via the Baltic Sea and Germany. The official rationale for the project is that Europe needs more gas, and this is the best way to get it. Yet the pipeline, combined with other planned projects, will actually reduce Russia’s export capacity. And even as Nord Stream 2 promises “the further diversification of energy routes to Europe,” it will actually concentrate Russian gas exports into a single pipeline corridor in the Baltic Sea, where it will bypass Ukraine and reduce that country’s gas load to 10 percent of current capacity.

It seems odd that European leaders, concerned about energy security and about the economic health of their partner, Ukraine, would welcome the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. But at least some European politicians are comfortable with the Kremlin’s promises that the project won’t harm Ukrainian interests. They shouldn’t be. Russian President Vladimir Putin has used Gazprom pipelines to hurt Europe and Ukraine before, and he’d probably do it again.

The development of additional pipeline would typically mean more gas supply, but only if the old pipeline routes are not destroyed. And unfortunately for European gas consumers, Gazprom plans to decommission export pipelines with a combined capacity several times higher than that of Nord Stream 2. In particular, it is targeting pipelines that are connected to Ukraine, through which it can export to Europe 146 billion cubic meters of gas annually. According to Gazprom’s “optimization program,” the company will reduce the capacity of pipelines delivering gas to the Russian-Ukrainian border to 10 billion to 15 billion cubic meters a year.

In other words, after the completion of Nord Stream 2, total Russian gas export capacity to Europe will be down by about 85 billion cubic meters annually. Already, according to the December 2018 issue of the corporate Gazprom magazine, the company has decommissioned three compressor shops that provide the pressure to move gas through pipelines and is working on four more. The plan foresees liquidation of more than 2,600 miles of pipelines and 62 compressor shops in all.

Since Nord Stream 2 will consolidate Russian exports along a single route, Europe will also be more vulnerable to supply outages, whether caused by disaster or by Putin’s whims.

At the moment, about 90 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe ship via Nord Stream 1, pipes in Belarus, and pipes in Ukraine. In 2018, they ran at by 107 percent, 92 percent, and 65 percent capacity, respectively. By liquidating the only route with significant spare capacity, Gazprom will be unable to compensate deficit of gas in Europe, for instance, in case of an outage of Norwegian supply. A mine from World War II, an underwater drone, or a technical failure could take down any of the four lines of Nord Stream 1 and 2. It takes one to three days to restore a land pipeline, but it can take months to repair a subsea line of the size of Nord Stream because of the very limited number of vessels capable of doing the job. European gas users will be exposed to a higher risk.

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