The European Commission said on October 16 that EU member states could survive an interruption of Russian gas supplies this winter if the countries worked together to share resources.
The Commission said it “wanted to have a clear picture of where the biggest shortfalls would arise and how they could be mitigated” in case of disruptions caused by the ongoing standoff between Russia and Ukraine.
A similar price dispute in January 2009 halted supplies for weeks, with Bulgaria among the EU countries hit the worst – both because of its extreme reliance on Russian gas but also because the interruption coincided with a bitter cold spell.
To assess the possible impact of a repeat disruption, the EC asked for a “gas stress test”, which was conducted by ENTSOG, the association of gas grid operators from the EU member states.
Presenting the results of the stress test, European energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said that “for the very first time, we have a complete picture of the risks and possible solutions. If we work together, show solidarity and implement the recommendations of this report, no household in the EU has to be left out in the cold this winter.”
A prolonged supply disruption would have a substantial impact in the EU, with the bloc’s member states in Eastern Europe and the countries in the European Energy Community being affected most – with Finland, Estonia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia potentially missing more than 60 per cent of the gas they need.
“If countries work together, instead of adopting purely national measures, then less consumers will be cut off from the gas. In this scenario, no household in the EU would have to be affected,” the EC said.
For the EU countries in south-eastern Europe – a list that includes Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece – gas played a key role in their energy mix, with their gas grids designed largely with a view to receiving supplies from Russia via Ukraine.
Despite some efforts to increase gas grid interconnection since the 2009 gas supply crisis, only a few such projects have been completed, including the Bulgaria-Greece one. In case of a six-month disruption, Bulgaria would be country affected the most in relative terms (although in absolute terms, Romania and Hungary would experience larger shortfalls because of their larger markets), the EC said.
In addition to closer co-operation and speeding up interconnection projects, the countries in south-eastern Europe had to ensure that fuel switching could be carried out in case of longer gas supply interruptions.
For Bulgaria, this means drafting contingency plans for industrial consumers and heating utilities, as well as stepping up efforts to finalise the interconnector pipeline to Romania. Bulgaria should also work towards implementing EU internal market rules to create a regional gas and electricity marketplace.
Additionally, the Commission recommended that Bulgaria agree a memorandum of understanding with Greece that would provide unhindered electricity exports from Bulgaria in exchange for unhindered gas imports from Greece in emergency situations. Sofia was also advised to consider a similar agreement with Turkey.
Given the small amounts of gas used in Macedonia, the EC recommended that Bulgaria continues to allow gas to flow into the neighbouring country even if Bulgaria experiences a shortfall. “This would be an important signal of cooperation that would need to be prepared in advance by way of an agreement between the two countries,” the EC said.
(Photo: Marco Caliulo/sxc.hu)