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Gas grumbles heat up in bitter cold

Gas grumbles heat up in bitter cold
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The European Commission has confirmed several European countries are experiencing reduced flows of Russian natural gas.

Brussels says the countries involved are Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Italy. Turkey and Macedonia are also reported to be affected.

EU energy spokeswoman Marlene Holzner told a regular news briefing on Friday: “Yesterday, we saw in Austria a decrease of 30 percent, Italy of 24 percent and Poland eight percent. But I must also say that it’s not a situation of emergency yet.”

Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom insists it is sending as much gas as it can spare to Europe and said Ukraine, across which the fuel flows through pipelines, must be taking more than its contracted share.

“Our company has increased gas supplies to European countries … to the maximum in the middle of a harsh winter in Russia and Europe,” Alexander Medvedev, who heads Gazprom’s exporting arm, said in a statement on Thursday.

“Ukraine is currently taking gas at the annual pace of 60 billion cubic metres, which is significantly above contracted levels,” Medvedev added.

Ukraine flatly denied that and said Russia was shipping 15 percent less gas than usual because of increased domestic consumption due to bitter cold weather there.

The Interfax news agency quoted Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Boiko as saying: “The main issue is that Russia is experiencing significantly colder weather (than previously) and shipments to Ukraine have fallen.”

“With a technical agreement for 490 million cubic metres a day, the actual volume of shipments today is 415 million cubic metres,” he added.

All member states had so far been able to secure gas from other sources, either from storage facilities or substituting supplies with liquefied natural gas (LNG), the European Commission’s Holzner said.

The observed decrease in Russian gas flows to Europe does not necessarily mean that Gazprom has breached its contractual obligations.

“The contract that Russia has allows for certain flexibility in case they also need the gas, and that’s the situation that Russia faces at the moment. In the last days, we talked about minus 20 degrees (Celsius) in Moscow,” Holzner said.

Supplies in Britain looked stable, although the soaring demand meant that spot gas prices in Europe’s most important gas market shot up to three year highs.