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gas, an energy weapon difficult to handle


Faced with the worsening of the Ukrainian crisis, Germany ended up resolving to suspend the commissioning of Nord Stream 2, this gas pipeline which runs at the bottom of the Baltic. Germany already sources more than 50% of its gas from Russia. It would therefore be very difficult to do without this supplier. The country could not do without gas at all, because it is a key element of its energy transition, except to relaunch its coal-fired power stations and restart its nuclear power stations.

→ ANALYSIS. Ukrainian crisis: Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline of discord

“The Germans have done the minimum service in terms of sanctions, by pausing the start-up of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. But they are not going to reduce their purchases of Russian gas, because they have no other solutions, and the Russians will continue their deliveries, because they have a financial interest»underlines Thierry Bros, professor at Sciences Po.

Russia sells 70% of its gas exports to Europe

When it comes to gas, Russia and Germany are interdependent. And it’s the same at European level. Europe imports 40% of its gas from Russia, while Russia earns 70% of its gas export revenues from its European customers. It is difficult to imagine that the Ukrainian crisis could lead to a total interruption of Russian deliveries.

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“Even in 2014, at the height of the war in Donbass, deliveries continued”notes Catherine Locatelli, researcher at the CNRS and teacher at the University of Grenoble. “Russia would not have the possibility, overnight, to sell its gas to China because there is only one gas pipeline to this country, with a limited capacity. »

Two years to build an LNG terminal

If ever the Ukrainian crisis were to worsen until it led to a total blockage, it would be just as complicated for Europeans to replace Russian gas. Norway, in fact, cannot increase its production, and the Netherlands is in the process of sharply reducing theirs with the early shutdown of the Groningen field, which supplies a large part of northwestern Germany. This is an additional concern for Berlin, which has never wanted to build terminals to regasify the liquefied natural gas (LNG) arriving by ship from all over the world, judging the process too expensive.

The Germans have just changed their minds on the subject, but a bit late. “It takes at least two years to build an LNG terminal”says Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies.

Moreover, finding additional capacity is very complicated in a gas market where demand is currently greater than supply. “The United States has made a lot of diplomatic efforts in recent weeks to develop new gas routes, but without much success so far explains Armelle Lecarpentier, chief economist of the Cedigaz association.

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To find gas, you have to pay the price

Major gas exporters such as Australia and Qatar are bound by long-term contracts with China, Japan or Korea. They would have to obtain the prior agreement of their customers to divert volumes to Europe. “Everything is possible if Europeans are ready to pay the price”, underlines Claire Mathieu, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). Already large quantities of American shale gas have arrived since the beginning of the year in European terminals. But the volumes would be insufficient to compensate for the possible stoppage of Russian deliveries.

→ READ. Russian gas: the puzzle of alternatives

“The volumes that we could redirect to other customers represent around 10 to 15%” of Europe’s needs, indicated the Qatari energy minister. If the diplomatic crisis leads to a closing of the tap, Russia and Europe will also suffer the consequences: the Europeans by paying more for their gas, the Russians by having less foreign exchange income. Russia, however, has the financial means to absorb the shock for several months, while European governments are more sensitive to their public opinion.

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