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Nord Stream 1: How Russia is cutting gas supplies to Europe

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Nord Stream worker at controlsImage source, Getty Images

Russia has cut the amount of gas it sends to Europe by shutting the key Nord Stream 1 pipeline for the second time in recent months, saying the closure is necessary to allow repairs.

The reduction in Russian gas exports has sent global prices soaring, but Moscow has denied using energy as a political weapon.

What is Nord Stream 1 and how much gas does it supply?

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline stretches 1,200km (745 miles) under the Baltic Sea from the Russian coast near St Petersburg to north-eastern Germany.

It opened in 2011, and can send a maximum of 170m cubic metres of gas per day from Russia to Germany.

The pipeline is owned and operated by Nord Stream AG, whose majority shareholder is the Russian state-owned company Gazprom.

Germany had also previously approved the construction of a parallel pipeline – Nord Stream 2 – but the project was halted after Russia invaded Ukraine.

How has Russia cut supplies?

In May, Gazprom closed a key pipeline which runs through Belarus and Poland and delivers gas to Germany and other European nations.

Then in June, it cut gas deliveries through Nord Stream 1 by 75% – from 170m cubic metres of gas a day to roughly 40m cubic metres.

Then, in July, it shut down Nord Stream 1 for 10 days, citing the need for maintenance.

Shortly after reopening, Gazprom halved the amount supplied to 20m cubic metres because of what it called faulty equipment.

Why has the pipeline shut?

The latest reason for closing the Nord Stream pipeline, says Russia, is that a leak has been detected in a turbine.

But Siemens Energy, which produces the gas turbines, said these type of leaks “do not normally affect the operation of a turbine”.

“This doesn’t seem like a legitimate reason to close a pipeline”, says Ben McWilliams, an energy policy expert at Bruegel. “I’m as confident as I can be that this is Putin’s latest move to manipulate gas prices and put pressure on Europe’s energy systems.”

Since February, the EU has imposed a number of sanction packages on Russia, including on its energy industry.

But a spokesperson for the EU told the BBC the sanctions regime does not affect the technology needed for the transport of gas into Europe.

Gazprom has said missing documents have prevented certain gas turbines being maintained – but Siemens Energy has rejected the suggestion it failed to provide the relevant paperwork.

How is it hurting Europe?

Europe – and in particular Germany – has historically been very reliant on Russian gas to meet its energy needs.

When Russia announced its intention to restrict supply in July, within a day it had pushed up the wholesale price of gas in Europe by 10%.

Although the UK imports very little gas from Russia, gas prices are set globally and are now approximately 450% higher than they were this time last year.

“The market is so tight at the moment that any disruption in supply causes more hikes in the price of gas,” says Carole Nakhle, CEO of analysts Crystol Energy.

“This could cause slowdowns in European economies and accelerate the route towards recession.”

Image source, Reuters

Image caption,

Nord Stream 1 previously supplied Germany with the majority of its gas from Russia

How is Europe reacting to the supply cuts?

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of waging “an overt gas war against a united Europe”.

“Russia is weaponising gas more and more,” agrees Kate Dourian, fellow at the Energy Institute.

“It is trying to show that it is still an energy superpower, and can retaliate [against] the sanctions Europe has put on it.”

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany got 55% of its gas from Russia. It has managed to reduce this to 35% and vowed to end imports completely.

As part of this, it has tried to get alternative supplies of gas from Norway and the Netherlands.

Germany is also increasing its use of coal and extending the life of power stations which it had been planning to shut down – despite the negative environmental impact.

Italy and Spain are trying to import more gas from Algeria.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin had its lights turned off in July

Spain has already brought in similar rules and Switzerland is considering doing the same.

Many European citizens are also taking steps themselves.

“In Germany,” says Ms Nakhle, “people are buying wood stoves and installing solar panels. Everyone is taking actions to reduce their use of gas.

“We should not underestimate how seriously people are taking the prospect of gas shortages.”

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