From Denmark to Portugal, Europe ramps up efforts to free itself from Russian gas

The construction site of the Baltic Pipe gas pipeline on April 7, 2022 in Middelfart, Denmark. (Camille BAS-WOHLERT/AFP)

Laid near a dirty trench, large black pipes will soon be buried in this corner of the earth in Denmark. Long-suspended construction of a gas pipeline linking Norway with Poland has resumed following the invasion of Ukraine.

From LNG terminal projects in northern Germany, Finland or France, to possible new routes through Spain or the eastern Mediterranean, Europe is working hard to get rid of Russian gas, though experts say it will take years.

In Middelfart, on the Danish island of Funen, work on the Baltic Pipe resumed last month to complete the nearly 900-kilometer link.

“It is also about having gas in the Danish system, but above all about helping the gas system of our good neighbors and Polish friends,” Søren Juul Larsen, project manager at Danish energy infrastructure operator Energinet, tells AFP.

Just a week after the invasion of Ukraine, the Danish environmental authority, particularly concerned about the project’s impact on native mouse and bat species, issued permission to continue construction after a nine-month hiatus.

“We expected it to be approved soon, but of course the war has made this issue more urgent,” said Trine Villumsen Berling, a research fellow at the Danish Institute for International Studies.

Born almost 20 years ago, launched in 2018, the partly subsea project is due to be commissioned in October and fully commissioned on January 1, 2023.

“We are working really well with all the contractors to accelerate, doing our best to meet the schedule,” Mr. Juul Larsen assures as he tours the premises.

Nord Stream 2 is terminated

With an annual capacity of 10 billion m3 of gas, the pipeline should be able to guarantee half of the consumption of Poland, which three years ago announced the end in 2022 of its vast contract with the Russian giant Gazprom.

Søren Juul Larsen, project manager for the Baltic Pipe natural gas pipeline of energy infrastructure operator Energinet, April 7, 2022 in Middlefart, Denmark.
Søren Juul Larsen, Baltic Pipe Project Manager, Energy Infrastructure Operator Energinet, April 7, 2022 in Middlefart, Denmark (Camille BAS-WOHLERT / AFP)

But this good news for Warsaw could make it difficult to supply the rest of Europe, a sign of the difficulty of supplying on the continent.

Norway, the second largest supplier of gas to Europe after Russia, ensures that it produces at full capacity, and therefore the gas entering Poland will no longer be sold in Western Europe.

“This project should help Poland, but could lead to a reduction in Norwegian gas exports to the UK and Germany,” said Zongqiang Luo, an expert at analyst firm Rystad.

In addition, many long-term contracts between Russia and European suppliers are still designed for 10-15 years, he notes.

But according to an EU official, the EU could do without Russian gas entirely “well before 2030.”

With Norway operating at full capacity, stocks in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom depleting and Russia undesirable, Europe is thus seeking its gas from further afield using liquefied natural gas (LNG) that can be shipped from the US, Qatar or Africa.

But its import requires the construction of heavy terminals or at least the purchase of floating storage and regasification units (FBU) for imported LNG.

Alternative routes

Faced with the abandonment of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, whose construction was restarted last winter in Danish waters, Germany has urgently restarted three projects to install LNG terminals that had not yet been considered a priority.

Nord Stream 2
Nord Stream 2 (Patricio ARANA/AFP/Archive)

One may be ready for winter 2023/24, the other two not until 2026.

Estonia-associated Finland announced on Thursday a project to lease an import terminal vessel, and the three Baltic countries announced they would stop importing Russian gas from April 1.

In the south of Europe, Spain and Portugal are defending an alternative route for Russian gas supplies.

Port of Sines, the largest in Portugal, plans to double the capacity of its gas terminal in less than two years.

Spain, linked by a gas pipeline to Algeria and equipped with extensive LNG terminals, could offer an option. But it takes hard work to improve ties with the rest of the EU via France.

Another route has also been relaunched: the connection with Europe of gas from the eastern Mediterranean, discovered en masse 20 years ago off the coast of Israel and Cyprus.

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