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A senior US energy adviser has warned that “lives are at stake” in Europe this winter as the continent enters the season of low gas supplies and the threat of supply cuts.
Amos Hochstein, senior energy security adviser to President Joe Biden’s State Department, said Russia had “undersupplied the market compared to its traditional stocks” and contributed to the highest prices ever.
“If you get a really cold winter in January and February, supplies can run out. And that’s what worries me,” he told the The Washington City Times on Saturday during a visit to Kiev, highlighting US fears over Europe’s reliance on Russia for energy flows. “This isn’t just about a few geopolitical games. Human lives are at stake.”
Hochstein, a State Department veteran in President Barack Obama’s administration and a former adviser to then-Vice President Biden, was appointed last month with his immediate focus on mitigating risks from Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Critics say the Kremlin will use the pipeline to undermine Ukraine — bypassing it and robbing it of transit fees — and increasing its influence over the EU’s energy supply.
The $11 billion pipeline, which will transport 55 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe annually, is due to be launched before the end of the year. Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow of deliberately choking the supply in order to speed up the certification of NS2 with European regulators. This process is still ongoing.
Russian energy giant Gazprom has consistently said it has honored all of its long-term contracts with European buyers, but has been criticized for not making additional gas available at a time of tight supplies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that high gas prices in Europe were partly the result of “smart alecs” in the European Commission pushing for “market-based” pricing, a clear excavation of the EU’s efforts to fight competition in gas markets. increase where Russia dominates the supply.
Other factors have also tightened the market, including a sharp decline in domestic European production this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, higher demand for gas due to highly polluting coal and Asian demand for liquefied natural gas cargoes.
Energy managers have warned that prices could remain high over the winter, to the point where some energy-intensive industries may have to curtail production and soar household bills.
The US has long been against NS2, but the Biden administration reached a ceasefire with Germany in July that would oblige Berlin to impose sanctions on Russia if it “armed” the pipeline against Ukraine or other allies. The Biden government had previously lifted sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG, Gazprom’s pipeline operator.
Officials in Kiev and neighboring Poland have vehemently criticized the US-German agreement for not providing concrete guarantees for security or future Russian gas flow through Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.
Hochstein spoke during a visit to Kiev, where he held talks with Ukrainian officials about the implementation of the US-German agreement to address such concerns, including by convincing Gazprom to extend Ukraine’s gas transit agreement beyond 2024. it is expected that the Russians will agree” to extend gas transit through Ukraine, Hochstein said. Kiev claims Russia has ceased extending a transit agreement.
Hochstein said that while the US believed Russia had “used natural gas as a weapon for many, many years,” he did not say Moscow had deliberately restricted gas supplies in recent months — an action that could lead to additional sanctions against Moscow under the framework. of the US-German Agreement.