Russia's Nord Stream pipeline goes back online in boost for Europe's gas supplies

Energy fears ease for now as gas flows resume through trans-Baltic route after maintenance

The Nord Stream pipeline which connects Russia and Germany had been out of service since July 11. AP
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Russia's biggest gas pipeline to Europe went back into service on Thursday after an anxious 10-day wait for repairs, calming at least for now the fear that Moscow will switch it off for good.

Gas started flowing again through the 1,224-kilometre Nord Stream 1 pipeline and was expected to return to about 40 per cent capacity, the same level as before the repairs.

But “the political uncertainty and the 60 per cent reduction from mid-June unfortunately remain in place", said Klaus Mueller, the head of Germany's power grid regulator.

The euro edged up as currency traders reacted to the restart with relief, following warnings by Germany and the EU that the pipeline might never come back online. European gas prices fell by 2.9 per cent.

The EU has accused Russia, its main energy provider, of blackmailing countries that have imposed sanctions on Moscow because of the war in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin added to Europe's concerns by saying on Wednesday that flows could be reduced further or stopped because the quality of serviced equipment could not be assured.

The mid-June reduction in Nord Stream deliveries was blamed by Russian exporter Gazprom on technical problems but considered by the German government to be a pretext to squeeze supplies.

Gazprom said on Wednesday that a gas turbine needed for the pipeline's “operational safety” was still missing amid a tug-of-war between Russia, Ukraine and Canada, where it was being serviced.

Canada irked Ukraine by saying it would grant an exemption from sanctions to permit the turbine's return, but Nord Stream said it had not received relevant documents from German manufacturer Siemens.

The German government said it viewed Gazprom's turbine story as an excuse because the component was not apparently needed until September. Gazprom is the majority owner of Nord Stream and in turn is majority-owned by the Russian state.

In the fallout from the war in Ukraine, Russia cut off gas supplies to some European countries, including Finland, Poland and Bulgaria, after they refused to pay in roubles.

Germany receives most of its Russian gas through Nord Stream and some of it is exported onward to other countries such as Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

Modelling by Mr Mueller's agency suggested that those exports may have to stop in the event that Nord Stream was switched off.

Germany's gas tanks are about 65 per cent full, with the EU setting a target of 80 per cent before winter. The country gets gas from Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium too, but the Nord Stream closure had knocked back its supplies.

A parallel pipeline, Nord Stream 2, was completed last year but never went online after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suspended the project in February.

Updated: July 21, 2022, 9:12 AM