Germany breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday as Russian gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline resumed after maintenance work, but a senior official said the country remained “at the mercy of Russia” in terms of energy imports.
“We are at the mercy of Russia at the moment because they decide how much gas Nord Stream 1 will pass on to us,” Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Network Agency regulator, said just hours after gas started flowing again at around 40% of the pipeline’s maximum capacity.
“The worst-case scenario has not occurred, but I can’t give an all-clear yet,” Müller told dpa in reference to a recent warning from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that gas deliveries could be throttled to 20% of maximum capacity.
The 10-day maintenance outage reduced flows to zero on July 11, and there had been fears Moscow could decide not to turn supplies back on in retaliation for sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
A Nord Stream AG spokesman said gas flows had resumed but it would take some time to reach the usual gas transport levels.
He said the latest gas supply volumes were the same as those announced before the maintenance period – around 67 million cubic metres per day – and correspond to about 40% of maximum supply capacity.
But it is possible for volumes to change over the course of a day, with some time needed for changes to take effect.
Gazprom had initially announced it would supply around 800 GWh of gas on Thursday, Müller had tweeted Wednesday evening.
But the Russian state-owned energy firm later lowered the volume to about 530 GWh or 30% capacity, Müller said.
Austrian gas company OMV confirmed that the country would receive about half of the gas volumes agreed with Russia on Thursday, according to a report from Austrian news agency APA.
OMV cited Gazprom as saying that gas flows would return to the level in place before the maintenance period.
During the 10-day period, OMV received only one third of the gas it ordered from Russia, the report said.
Austria receives the majority of its Russia gas deliveries via Ukraine and not via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
Russia was hit with sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine in February. Moscow responded by partially or fully cutting off gas supplies to European countries.
The supply volume in the coming months is likely to have a major impact on Germany’s economy and private households, with gas prices expected to rise further.
How much gas comes through the pipeline will also affect how much Germany can store ahead of the winter heating season and whether there will be gas shortages.
Environmental groups responded by saying that Germany will be under Russia’s thumb until it decides to phase out its gas consumption altogether.
“No one should be reassured” by the fact that Russian gas is flowing to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline again after a 10-day beak for maintenance work, said Greenpeace’s Reenie Vietheer.
“There is only security from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s power games with fossil energies by phasing out gas as quickly as possible,” aid Viethier.
The head of Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), Olaf Bandt, said that though gas was flowing again, “the problems for autumn remain. The situation painfully demonstrates how heavily we depend on fossil fuels, first and foremost natural gas.”
Also on Thursday, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck announced another package of measures to ensure Germany’s energy security in light of the reduction in Russian gas deliveries.
The measures include stricter requirements for filling gas storage facilities and activating lignite reserve plants, as well as energy-saving measures in public buildings, Habeck said.
Putin warned on Tuesday that gas volumes could drop as low as 33 million cubic metres by the end of July if a gas turbine sent to Canada for repairs wasn’t returned to Russia soon.
German officials have said Russia is using the delay in returning the turbine as a pretext.
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline has a full daily capacity of around 167 million cubic metres of gas. In June, before the maintenance shutdown, Gazprom reduced that volume to just 67 million cubic metres per day.