EU wants gas storage topped up to curb reliance on Russia

Raf Casert
Associated Press

Brussels – The European Union’s executive arm proposed Wednesday that all natural gas storage facilities in the 27-nation bloc are topped up to at least 80% capacity for next winter as it seeks to reduce its reliance on Russian energy in the future.

On the eve of a two-day summit of EU leaders, the European Commission said the bloc must quickly revamp its energy policy before next winter and another price crisis leaves millions of EU citizens with bills they cannot pay.

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EU leaders have already vowed to wean the bloc off its dependence on Russian energy by 2027, but tangible measures still have to be put in place. On top of mandatory high storage levels, the commission also wants EU nations to agree to the joint purchase of natural gas and liquefied natural gas that would be similar to its system of buying COVID-19 vaccines in huge quantities for equitable distribution.

The draft conclusions of the summit obtained by The Associated Press include that “with a view to next winter, Member States and the Commission will urgently … work together on the joint purchase of gas, LNG and hydrogen.” The details of such a deal would still need to be worked out.

The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of EU gas and a quarter of its oil.

Increased gas storage should help alleviate dependency. Currently, up to 30% of consumption during a winter comes from storage. After demanding a level of 80% capacity this year, the commission wants it to go to 90% next year.

To ensure the storage facilities could not be controlled by foreign interests that could manipulate prices and volume, the commission wants there to be a certification system “to address essential security interests.”

In Germany, for example, Russia’s Gazprom owns several storage facilities. The German government is in the process of passing a law requiring the storage facilities to be filled to capacity by the winter, to prevent any manipulation with storage volumes.

To deal with runaway energy prices, several nations are looking at imposing price caps on gas, saying the market conditions have become unhinged from reality. But Germany and the Netherlands have raised objections, fearing suppliers would simply sell elsewhere.

In its communication, the commission said such capping “can give an important signal that the EU will not pay any price for gas but such an intervention should only be envisaged as last resort, as it entails some drawbacks in terms of security of supply of gas flows.”

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Associated Press journalist Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.