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Copper Tip Energy Services
Vista Projects
Copper Tip Energy

Russia Turns Gas Turbines Into Bargaining Chips in Energy Fight

These translations are done via Google Translate
(Bloomberg) Get used to reading about gas turbines: where they are, what state they’re in and, most important of all: whether they’re operating.

That’s because the security of Europe’s winter energy supply and the health of its economy now depend on a handful of the machines that Moscow is apparently using as bargaining chips to try to force the West to ease up on sanctions.

Several turbines allow gas to flow through the Nord Stream pipeline, the vital route for shipments into the continent from Russia. But only two had worked since last month, and one of those is due to stop by Wednesday, while the precise whereabouts of a replacement isn’t clear.

Russian gas giant Gazprom PJSC has halted the equipment in several steps, citing technical issues and the need for planned work. While many think that was largely a pretext, the most recent halt leaves the pipeline flowing at a rate of 20% of nameplate capacity compared to around 40% previously.

Officially, Russia blames the Western nations, saying sanctions imposed following the invasion of Ukraine have prevented normal maintenance of the equipment, which has to be done in Canada. Unofficially, insiders, familiar with the leadership’s thinking, say the Kremlin is likely to keep vital gas flows to Europe at minimal levels as long as the standoff over Ukraine continues.

Turbine Saga: Timeline |

The turbines installed at the gas giant’s Portovaya station on the Baltic coast power compressors, allowing gas to flow through the 1,200-kilometer (745-mile) subsea conduit all the way to Germany.

Each one is about 20 feet high, 15 feet wide and looks like an airplane engine.

Details on the situation at Portovaya are patchy to say the least, and come mainly from Russia. The station was designed to have six major turbines, although it’s not clear if that’s still the case. When all are fully operational, Nord Stream can carry at least 55 billion cubic meters a year to European consumers.

In 2021, when actual volumes were even higher than that, it was enough to cover about 15% of the European Union’s total gas needs.

The technical issues are real but Gazprom could still ship higher volumes via Nord Stream by delaying planned maintenance of some turbines, according to one person familiar with the situation. Doing so would pose additional risks to the pipeline’s operations, and Russia sees no reason to do that given Europe’s approach on Ukraine, the person said.

On top of that, Ukraine has repeatedly called for Gazprom to increase flows through its territory to compensate for at least some of the lost Nord Stream volumes, but the Russian company has rejected that option.

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Russia's gas flows to Europe already at multiyear lows

There is at least one spare turbine that should in theory be allowing Nord Stream to minimize downtime.

Gazprom said that Siemens Energy AG, which produced and services the machines, failed to return it on time from maintenance in Canada due to restrictions imposed by Ottawa.

After Germany’s top officials got involved, Canada agreed to exempt the equipment from its sanctions. This waiver will also cover other Nord Stream turbines that need maintenance.

The precise location of the repaired turbine isn’t entirely clear. It’s thought to either be in Germany, or on a boat somewhere between the country and Portovaya, about 10 miles from Russia’s border with Finland.

For its part, Siemens said on Monday that German authorities had given the company all the necessary documents, but that Gazprom hadn’t provided customs paperwork for them to be imported into Russia.

More Maintenance

Other Nord Stream turbines will also need to be sent for maintenance at some point, as required by Russia’s technological and environmental watchdog.

Moscow has not provided much clarity on when that may happen, or if the process has even begun. And the logistics are likely to be complex. All the turbines may have to be serviced at a Siemens facility in Montreal where they were produced.

These issues might extend beyond Nord Stream too. Other gas export facilities also have similar turbines, so Russia could end up using the same strategy elsewhere too, although seaborne cargoes can go to other locations than Europe.

Gradual cuts in Nord Stream flows have already prompted Germany, historically Gazprom’s single-largest client, to say that Russia cannot be considered a reliable gas supplier any more.

The Kremlin responded by saying it is “not interested” in a complete cutoff of supplies to Europe.

But it also didn’t rule out the possibility.

“If Europe continues its course of absolutely recklessly imposing sanctions and restrictions that hit itself, the situation may change,” according to the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

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