An explosion at a key European natural gas hub in Austria killed at least one person and caused supply disruptions that roiled the continent’s energy markets.
At least 21 people were injured and one missing and presumed dead after the blast at Gas Connect Austria’s hub in Baumgarten shortly before 9 a.m. local time, according to a statement from the operator. The company, which is 51 percent owned by OMV AG, doesn’t know what caused the blast.
“There is severe damage at the station,” Gas Connect Austria’s Armin Teichert said. OMV AG spokesman Robert Lechner said the “restoration of the Baumgarten hub isn’t a question of hours, but days” and that “alternative routes may be able to compensate for the Baumgarten halt.”
The facility, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Vienna, is a key link for Russian natural gas entering Europe accounting for about a 10th of the continent’s supply. In 2014, OMV signed a deal with OAO Gazprom to strengthen Baumgarten’s long-term role in European energy markets.
The explosion disrupted southern gas flows toward Croatia, Italy and Slovenia, according to Teichert. Lines running east to west are unaffected and operating normally.
Four hours after the blast, emergency workers were swarming the Baumgarten gas hub. A police helicopter circled smoking debris. Fire engines sped along the narrow road leading to the site, itself surrounded by sprawling farmland.
“I came rushed out after the blast,” said Walter Hansie, 88, standing in front of his grandson’s tractor shed about 1 kilometer away from the blast. “There was a fireball rising in the air when I got out. Nothing like that ever happened here before.”
An Austrian worker inside the plant died in the conflagration, according to Andreas Rinhofner, a spokesman for Austria Gas Connect. The company, 51 percent owned by OMV AG, is still looking into the precise cause of the incident.
Italy declared a gas emergency after the explosion threatened to limit its supplies. The nation’s pipeline operator, SNAM SpA, said supplies to Italy are guaranteed by storage it has available.
“Italy should be able to cope with their storage facilities,” Bernhard Painz from the Austrian gas regulator said on the phone. “The state of emergency is more of a formal procedure. We can’t say yet when full flows will resume.”