Gas supply from Austrian gas hub back to normal after deadly blast

Gas supply from Austrian gas hub back to normal after deadly blast
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By Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA (Reuters) - The supply of gas to neighbouring countries from Austria's main pipeline hub was back to normal on Wednesday after a deadly explosion shut it down.

The Baumgarten site in eastern Austria is a major regional transfer node, taking gas from as far away as Russia and pumping it towards neighbours including Italy - its biggest recipient - as well as Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia.

"We are back in normal operation," a spokesman for Gas Connect Austria, a subsidiary of energy group OMV, said the day after Tuesday's explosion. All transit systems in all directions were well functioning.

Russia separately pointed to the accident as underlining the need for its own Gazprom gas projects to proceed.

The amount of damage was not clear yet, and the Gas Austria Connect spokesman said he did not know to what claims against it, if any, would be made against his company.

Tuesday's explosion, in which one person was killed and 21 were injured, led Italy to declare a state of emergency as flows from the site were cut off for most of the day.

Italian gas grid operator Snam said flows from Russia resumed on Tuesday night.

News of the blast sent gas prices in Europe soaring on fears it would restrict supply as winter sets in, as one third of Russian natural gas is transported via the transport hub, according to Gas Connect.

In response to the outage, the Kremlin pushed its Gazprom plans.

"Of course this accident shows how important sustainable supplies of natural gas and energy resources (are) to Europe and how acute is the issue of sustainability of the whole (energy) system functioning," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a regular conference call.

The Russian energy group, which redirected its gas flows on Tuesday after the incident in Austria, plans to build a new pipeline to pump natural gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea, bypassing existing land routes over Ukraine, Poland and Belarus.

European Union executives see Russia's plan as undercutting EU efforts to reduce dependence on Moscow.

Russian gas transit through Ukraine dropped 23 percent to 200 million cubic metres per day after the explosion, Maksim Belyavsky, aide to Ukraine's energy minister, told Reuters on Wednesday, adding that Ukraine was now ready to ramp up pumping to levels seen before the blast.

The cause of the explosion could have been a technical fault of the filter system, the Gas Connect Austria spokesman said.

Work was carried out on the filter system on Monday, and staff from the licensing authority TUV Austria was on site for a technical certification at the time of the blast, he said.

He was informed that the person killed was a TUV employee. TUV Austria was not immediately available for comment.

Two independent probes, one internal by Gas Connect and one by Lower Austria's criminal police, were being conducted.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle, additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes in MILAN, Pavel Polityuk in KIEV, Dmitry Solovyov in MOSCOW; Editing by Ludwig Burger/Jeremy Gaunt)

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