* Russia has sharply reduced gas flows via Nord Stream
* Germany racing to secure alternative gas imports
* Floating LNG terminals a stopgap until fixed units built
* Berlin says Moscow using blackmail, Russia cites sanctions
(Adds Uniper comment)
FRANKFURT/BERLIN, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Germany secured a
commitment on Tuesday from major gas importers to keep two
floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals fully supplied
from this winter in a bid to cut reliance on Russian fuel, as
Moscow warned that sky-high gas prices may jump again.
Europe and Russia have been locked in a standoff over energy
supplies since Moscow invaded Ukraine and the West responded
with sanctions. Russia, which previously met about 40% of
Europe's gas needs, has reduced flows citing equipment issues,
while Berlin says Moscow wants to "blackmail" Europe.
Germany, Europe's powerhouse economy that was more reliant
than most on Russia, has been racing to find alternative sources
of gas before winter in case Russia cuts supplies further or
halts them. Berlin has already warned of possible gas rationing.
Under Tuesday's memorandum of understanding (MoU) with
Uniper, RWE and EnBW's VNG
, two Floating Storage and Regasification Units (FSRUs)
in Brunsbuettel and Wilhelmshaven will be fully supplied from
their expected operational start this winter until March 2024.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said this was part of
efforts "to make ourselves independent and less susceptible to
blackmail from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, and to give
Germany a robust and resilient energy infrastructure, or in this
case gas infrastructure."
The floating units are a stopgap measure until Germany can
build two permanent LNG terminals - the first such terminals to
be built in the country - to receive gas shipped from around the
world, instead of relying on Russian fuel supplied by pipeline.
The crisis sent Europe's benchmark gas price to
an all-time high of nearly 335 euros ($341) per megawatt hour
(MWh) in spring. They have since eased, trading around 223 euros
on Tuesday, but remain far higher than a year ago when they were
about 46 euros.
Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled company with a
monopoly on Russian gas exports by pipeline, said prices could
spike a further 60% from current levels, imposing more pain on
European consumers. It said they could exceed $4,000 per 1,000
cubic metres this winter, up from $2,500 now.
Uniper, which faced a financial crunch as it struggled to
meet supply commitments amid rocketing gas prices, was bailed
out by the German government in July with a 15 billion euro
deal. Berlin has also taken a 50% stake in the planned fixed LNG
terminal at Brunsbuettel, co-owned by RWE and Gasunie
Before the crisis, Germany received much of its gas from
Russia via the Nord Stream 1 (NS1) pipeline, majority-owned by
Gazprom. The pipeline had supplied 55 billion cubic metres (bcm)
a year to Germany and others, but now runs at 20% capacity.
Moscow blames reduced flows on delayed repairs because of
sanctions or faulty equipment. Berlin says these are pretexts to
hit back at Europe in response to Western sanctions.
"The erratic actions of the Russian president, the pretexts
(on NS1) ... I expect that we will again and again have to deal
with new challenges," Habeck said.
Using the two FSRUs, Germany will be able to receive up to
12.5 bcm of LNG a year, equivalent to about 13% of the country's
gas consumption in 2021, according to numbers from research firm
Uniper said it would buy 35% of the required gas volumes,
while RWE and EnBW/VNG would contribute 35% and 30%,
respectively. It said these were firm delivery commitments and
that a firm contract would be signed by the end of September.
"It's about replacing part of the missing gas volumes from
Russia very quickly this winter," Uniper Chief Commercial
Officer Niek den Hollander said.
As well as limiting supplies via Nord Stream, Russian
supplies pumped via Ukraine have also been reduced. Gazprom said
its gas exports fell by more than a third to 78.5 bcm between
Jan. 1 and Aug. 15 and production was down by 13.2% to 274.8 bcm
compared to a year ago.
Global demand for LNG was already surging before the latest
crisis as the world economy recovered the COVID-19 pandemic, and
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has served to drive LNG demand
But Habeck said German gas importers had been successful so
far in procuring LNG cargoes from the global market, which he
put at 500 bcm a year, although talks between German importers
and Qatar - a major LNG producer - have faltered.
Habeck said talks with Qatar were continuing but he also
said importers were looking broadly for the best deals.
"And if Qatar does not make the cheapest offer, companies
are well advised, in the interests of consumers, not to take the
most expensive offer," he said.
($1 = 0.9830 euros)
(Reporting by Christoph Steitz and Rachel More; Additional
reporting by Vera Eckert and Nina Chestney; Editing by Madeline
Chambers and Edmund Blair)