EXPLANATION: Can Europe live without Russian natural gas?

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BERLIN (AP) — Europe faced an energy crisis even before the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany was taken offline for regular maintenance.

Government officials are bracing for the possibility that the key pipeline may not restart as planned on Thursday, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the energy as political leverage in his confrontation with the European Union over Ukraine.

Russia has already reduced European flows of natural gas used to fuel factories, generate electricity and heat homes in winter, and Putin warns they could continue to decline. Deliveries via Nord Stream 1 were reduced by 60% before repairs began.

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Even if the pipeline restarts at reduced levels, Europe will struggle to keep homes warm and industry humming this winter.

Here are the key things to know about the energy crisis:

HAS RUSSIA CUT OFF THE GAS TO EUROPE?

He drastically reduced supplies. Even before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia did not sell gas on the short-term spot market. After the EU imposed drastic sanctions on Russian banks and companies and started sending arms to Ukraine, Russia cut off gas to six member countries and cut supplies to six others.

Flows to Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, via Nord Stream 1 have been cut by two-thirds, with Russia blaming some that were sent to Canada for maintenance and not returned due to sanctions. European leaders have dismissed the claim, saying it was a political gamble in retaliation for sanctions.

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It has left the 27 EU members scrambling to fill gas storage ahead of winter, when demand surges and utility companies dip into reserves to keep homes warm and power stations running. .

The EU’s goal is to use less gas now to build storage for the winter. Europe’s gas reserves are only 65% ​​full, against a target of 80% by November 1.

WHY IS RUSSIAN NATURAL GAS SO IMPORTANT?

Russia supplied about 40% of Europe’s natural gas before the war. That figure fell to around 15%, sending prices skyrocketing and straining energy-intensive industries.

The gas is used in a range of processes most people never see – forging steel to make cars, making glass bottles and pasteurizing milk and cheese.

Companies warn that they often cannot switch overnight to other energy sources such as fuel oil or electricity to generate heat. In some cases, equipment that contains molten metal or glass is destroyed if the heater is turned off.

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High energy prices are already threatening to trigger a recession in Europe due to record inflation, with consumers having less to spend as food, fuel and utility costs rise. A full shutdown could deal an even bigger blow to an already struggling economy.

WHAT IS THE NORD STREAM 1 PIPELINE?

It is the main European gas pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany and it is Germany’s main source of Russian gas.

Rystad Energy analysts have said that if Nord Stream 1 remains inactive, Europe will only reach around 65% of its storage capacity, creating a real risk of gas shortages during the heating season.

Three other pipelines carry Russian gas to Europe, but one via Poland and Belarus has been closed. Another, via Ukraine and Slovakia, still brings reduced quantities of gas despite the fighting, as does one via Turkey to Bulgaria.

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WHAT IS POUTINE’S GAME?

Although Russian oil and gas exporters are selling less energy, soaring prices mean Putin’s income has actually increased, according to the International Energy Agency. Since the invasion, Russia’s revenue from oil and gas exports to Europe has doubled from the average of recent years, to $95 billion, the Paris-based IEA said. .

The increase in Russia’s energy revenue in the last five months alone is three times what it typically does by exporting gas to Europe for an entire winter.

Putin therefore has cash in hand and can calculate that painful utility bills and an energy slump could undermine public support for Ukraine in Europe and increase sentiment of a negotiated settlement in its favor.

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“Based on what we have seen over the past year, it would be unwise to rule out the possibility that Russia decides to give up the revenue it derives from gas exports to Europe in order to ‘gain political clout,’ said Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director.

Indeed, Putin said the amount of gas pumped through Nord Stream 1 would drop a further 60 million to 30 million cubic meters per day, or about a fifth of its capacity, if the turbine which was sent to Canada for repairs n is not quickly replaced. Canada said it returned the piece, but Germany declined to say where it is.

“Our partners are trying to blame the mistakes they made on Russia and Gazprom, but it’s absolutely unfounded,” Putin told Russian reporters on Tuesday during talks in Tehran with Iranian and Turkish leaders.

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WHAT CAN EUROPE DO?

The EU has turned to the more expensive liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which arrives by ship from countries like the United States and Qatar. Germany is accelerating the construction of LNG import terminals on its North Sea coast, but it will take years. The first of four floating receiving terminals is due to come online later this year.

But LNG alone cannot close the gap. Global LNG export facilities are operating at full capacity in tight energy markets, and there is no more gas available. An explosion at a US terminal in Freeport, Texas, which sent most of its gas to Europe, knocked 2.5% of European supply offline overnight.

Conservation and other sources of energy are essential. For example, Germany is operating coal-fired power stations longer, creating a gas auction system to encourage conservation, and resetting thermostats in public buildings.

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The European Union on Wednesday proposed that member states voluntarily reduce their gas consumption by 15% over the next few months. The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, is seeking the power to impose mandatory cuts across the bloc if there is a risk of severe gas shortages or exceptionally high demand.

EU member states will discuss the measures at an emergency meeting of energy ministers next Tuesday.

Countries have been scrambling to secure alternative energy supplies, with the leaders of Italy, France and the European Union striking deals with their counterparts in Algeria, Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates this week.

COULD PEOPLE FREEZE THIS WINTER?

Homes, schools and hospitals are unlikely to lose heat as governments are required to impose rationing on businesses first. The German government could also allow gas suppliers to immediately pass on increases to customers.

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Choices could include torpedoing the industry and/or imposing even higher bills on consumers.

If Nord Stream 1 resumes at reduced levels, Europe would need to save 12 billion cubic meters of gas, the equivalent of 120 LNG tankers, to fill its storage levels by winter. The IEA recommends that European countries step up campaigns for people to save at home and plan to share gas in case of emergency.

A total cut would mean even more need to conserve. And time is running out.

“European leaders must prepare for this eventuality now to avoid the potential damage that would result from a disjointed and destabilizing response,” Birol said. “This winter could become a historic test of European solidarity – a test it cannot afford to fail – with implications far beyond the energy sector.”

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