War in Ukraine: Is there still Russian gas in our pipes?

The war in Ukraine has largely reshuffled the energy cards of the Old Continent. Europe, Russia’s privileged customer, has begun a forced and accelerated weaning. Previously very dependent on imports of Russian natural gas, delivered by gas pipeline, the 27 had to face in turn the voluntary gas cut-off by Russia from the first months of 2022, and the leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, which connect the Federation to northern Europe via the Baltic Sea, in September of the same year.

The contract that obliges Ukraine to allow Russian gas to pass through its territory to Europe via the pipeline Brotherhood is about to end. Moreover, the quantities transiting through this Ukrainian corridor have significantly decreased, we reported in June: according to The Insider, in 2023, the volume of gas transported was only 34% of what it was in 2021.

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Russia: On the Gas Route, from the Caspian to the Black Sea

From 40% to 8%: Europe is freeing itself from Russian natural gas…

For two years, and under the REPowerEU adopted in 2022, the European Union has therefore strived to do without Russian gas, by reviewing its needs downwards – the 27 have reduced their gas consumption by 20% since the invasion, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and by diversifying their sources of supply. The strategy is bearing fruit: “We went from 40% Russian natural gas in 2018 to around 8% natural gas” in 2023, reports Thierry Bros, French energy expert, to GEO.

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So much for natural gas, imported in gaseous form. But there is a subtlety: Europe has transferred part of its consumption of Russian gas to Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG), transportable by ship.It’s the same gas, but in different forms”explains Thierry Bros. “Natural gas cooled to -162 degrees takes the liquid form called LNG. And there you can put 600 times more per unit of volume, and send it by boat. When it arrives in Europe, it passes through regasification terminals in Marseille, Dunkirk, etc. This LNG then enters the distribution network, and it is no different from gas imported in gaseous form.”

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…But accelerate on LNG

From then on, the figures are different: according to the European Commission, total imports of Russian gas (this time including natural gas and LNG) amount to 15% of gas imports in Europe in 2023 – against 40% in 2021. The 27 have increased their demand for Russian LNG, and France, the largest European importer, is not far behind. Thus, France would have purchased 600 million euros worth of Russian LNG since January 2024, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), reported by Politico. In total, the 27 have increased their imports of Russian LNG by 11% between 2021 and 2023 according to the IEEFA.

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The French company TotalEnergies is one of the links in the supply of Russian LNG to Europe. Two years after the invasion of Ukraine, the energy giant remains a 19.4% shareholder in Novatek, the number two in Russian gas, and owns more than 20% of Yamal LNG, which operates the liquefied natural gas (LNG) production station of the same name in Western Siberia.It is not possible to do so [le contrat avec Yamal LNG,Ndlr]suspend in the absence of sanctions targeting them from the States”TotalEnergies justified to La Tribune. In total, TotalEnergie sells to the Old Continent approximately 4 million tons of Russian LNG each year. Contacted by GEO, the company did not respond to our requests.

Although Europe imposed a light sanction on Russian LNG for the first time when it decided on a 14th round of sanctions in June, the observation is clear: the path to energy independence from Russia is still long. But why so much trouble?Gas, we can’t do it: when Russia started cutting off our gas in 2022, prices skyrocketedrecalls Thierry Bros. We can’t wean ourselves off because we don’t have the money, and for For sanctions to be worthwhile, they must hurt your enemy more than they hurt you.”

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A speech shared by Patrick Pouyanné, the CEO of Total, in front of French senators last April.There is an import of Russian LNG into Europe: 14 million tonnes in 2022 and 2023 (…) If we decide to ban Russian LNG, we will have to look for these 14 million tonnes elsewhere, paying more. Because there are not, currently, 14 million tonnes of LNG available on the world market”he assured.

What gas flows through our valves?

“The only way to do it is to wait until there is more production,” says Thierry Bros. Gas from outside Russia, then. And on the path to diversification, Europe is making progress. In 2023, the European Council recalls, Norway and the United States were the main suppliers of gas to the European Union. Norway supplied almost 30% of all gas imports. Other suppliers include North African countries, the United Kingdom and Qatar.

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In terms of LNG, this time it is the United States that takes the lead, representing almost 50% of total European LNG imports. In 2023, compared to 2021, imports from the United States have almost tripled.

So, what gas is coming to you? Russian, Norwegian or American? Impossible to say.At home, you cannot know whether you have Russian or American LNG”tranche Thierry Bros. “What comes into our homes through the pipes is a mixture of several origins.”

And the brand is not a reliable indicator either: “Total has shares in Novatek. So in France, there is Russian LNG that arrives stamped Total, or Novatek. Then, either Total keeps it, or traders resell it. There is no way of knowing if Total keeps the gas for itself, if it resells it to Engie, or others… We can know the origin in the pipelines, in the boats, when entering the territory, but after that it is no longer possible.”

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