EU Gas Prices Soar On NS2 Delays, Sudden Belarus Pipeline Closure

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by Tyler Durden
Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021 - 03:20 PM

European natural gas prices continue to soar after Nord Stream 2 pipeline delays were seen earlier this week, and now a major crude pipeline from Russia into Europe has temporarily halted flows due to "unscheduled repairs." 

The newest market generated information pushing up European natgas prices to the highest levels in a month is due to a Belarus portion of the Druzhba oil pipeline system carrying Urals crude from Russia to Europe has temporarily halted flows to address "unscheduled repairs," the Russian energy export giant Transneft wrote in a statement. 

"Unscheduled repairs were started on one of the branches of the Druzhba oil pipeline, limiting the flow in the direction of Poland for approximately three days, while the planned target for the month is not being revised," Transneft spokesman Igor Demin said.

Gomeltransneft, the operator of the Belarusian section, said maintenance began on Nov. 16. "Starting from yesterday, Gomeltransneft has started an unplanned maintenance at one of the lines of the Druzhba pipeline, having restricted [crude] pumping towards Adamowa Zastawa [in Poland] tentatively for three days, but the plan for the month is not revised," a Transneft spokesman said. 

Druzhba is one of the largest pipeline networks in the world that carries a mix of heavy sour oil of Urals and light oil of Western Siberia, where its network splits in two and pumps the crude into a northern section, Poland and Germany, and a southern area, Ukraine to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

The unscheduled repairs, restricting flows, come days after Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko threatened to cut the transit gas supply from Russia to Europe over a migrant crisis at the Belarus-Poland border.

Compound that with the approval process for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline now delayed...

As Katabella Roberts writes at The Epoch Times, Germany’s energy regulator the Bundesnetzagentur announced on Tuesday that it has suspended the certification process for a major new pipeline connecting the country and Russia, after ruling that its operator within Germany does not comply with conditions set by German law.

The watchdog said on Tuesday it had temporarily halted the certification process because the Swiss company behind Nord Stream 2 had decided not to turn itself into a German company but had instead set up a subsidiary under German law to deal with the section of the pipeline on German territory.

The Swiss-based consortium first needs to form a German subsidiary company under German law to secure an operating licence, the regulator said.

“Nord Stream 2 AG, which is based in Zug (Switzerland), has decided not to transform its existing legal form but instead to found a subsidiary under German law solely to govern the German part of the pipeline. This subsidiary is to become the owner and operator of the German part of the pipeline. The subsidiary must then fulfil the requirements of an independent transmission operator as set out in the German Energy Industry Act,” the Bundesnetzagentur said in a statement.

“Following a thorough examination of the documentation, the Bundesnetzagentur concluded that it would only be possible to certify an operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if that operator was organised in a legal form under German law,” the German regulator said.

...and the Dutch month-ahead gas, the European benchmark, is up at least 33% this week. 

For a sense of the scale of Europe's gas price crisis, the following chart puts UK, US, and EU NatGas on par with WTI Crude (per barrel of oil equivalent BTUs), As is clear, there is a huge energy disparity between gas in Europe, providing more incentives for switching again (but not helped by Belarus now shutting its oil pipeline).  

The timing of the Druzhba maintenance and delay of the Nord Stream 2 certification process comes at the worst possible moment. Europe faces a massive energy crunch as natgas stockpiles are the lowest in a decade, just as Europe faces its first cold winter blast. Widespread below-average temperatures continue to plague parts of the continent, as the following chart of NW Europe Heating Degree Days shows.

Meanwhile, Europe's natgas storage levels are the lowest since 2013.

These unexpected delays or hiccups to crude and natgas flows from Russia to Europe are ahead of the first cold blast of the season, as energy inflation and supply chain disruptions due to the energy crisis and pandemic could metastasize into a "winter of discontent," fueling socio-economic instabilities across Europe.