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Russian offensive reverses gas routes in Europe

Historically, gas came to France via Germany and Belgium for domestic consumption or for redirection to Spain and Switzerland, but since the war, the direction of gas has changed
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AFP/PHILIPPE WOJAZER  -   French President Emmanuel Macron

Underneath the Vosges countryside, known for the passage of Tour de France competitors and its extensive grape cultivation, lie the pipelines that are expected to rescue Europe. The Morelmaison compressor station, located in these moors, receives gas from Norway, Qatar and the United States to push it to the heart of Europe, and in particular to Germany. This industrial site has a cautious but essential role to play in transporting gas to Europe, in particular to Germany, which was 55% dependent on Russia before the war in Ukraine. 

On the surface, only 2% of the underground network of pipes and valves can be seen, allowing only four people to run the terminal. The Morelmaison station, of the 26 stations on Gallic soil, is one of the best strategically positioned because it provides the interconnection between the gas pipelines that receive gas from Dunkirk via Norway, whose destination was historically France. 

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REUTERS/WOJCIECH MOSKWA - Snoehvit liquefied natural gas (LNG) complex in the town of Hammerfest in northern Norway

There are 26 gas compressor stations like Morelmaison's arranged in France in the 32,527 km network of pipelines managed by the French gas transport administrator GRTgaz. They interconnect the arteries arriving and leaving the station by means of a set of valves, but also by means of generators to raise the pressure of the gas to meet the losses incurred during transport. "The gas flows through the station supply Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, and thus provide a very tangible sign of solidarity and compensation for the reduced flow from Russia," stresses Guillaume Tuffigo, head of GRTgaz's marketing division. 

Faced with the extinction of Russian gas in the pipelines, Europe has had to renew its supplies, using Norwegian natural gas and liquefied natural gas from Qatar and the United States, which arrives by ship at four fully operational French LNG terminals. Long labelled by gas firms as the "dead end" for Russian gas, France has paradoxically amended itself into one of Europe's gas access points since Moscow's gas stopped leaking, or almost stopped leaking. An idea that was "unthinkable two years ago", admits Thierry Trouvé, CEO of GRTgaz. "We didn't see much reason to think that this east-west flow could be challenged," he adds. 

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PHOTO/ARCHIVO - LNG carrier from Qatar transporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

Historically, gas came to France via Germany and Belgium for domestic consumption or for redirection to Spain and Switzerland. But since the war, the gas routes and direction of pipelines have been reversed. In particular, France collects gas from Spain and "from now on, the flows will go from France to Belgium and Germany," says Guillaume Tuffigo. France, through the GRTgaz network, has increased the transport of gas to Switzerland sevenfold in 2022 compared to last year. At the same time, GRTgaz will receive 70% less gas from Germany in 2022 compared to 2021. As a symbol of this historic turnaround, France has been sending gas directly to its German neighbour since 13 October under a mutual aid agreement between the two countries. 

As of 22 November, 2.7 terawatts (TWh) of gas, the equivalent of three nuclear reactors, had been sent to Germany via the border gas station at Obergailbach (Moselle, France), a site connected to Morelmaison. France is making available a transport capacity of 100 GWh/day, the maximum technically possible at this stage. For the time being, Europe, whose stocks are full (93% on Wednesday), can disown Russian pipelines, but for how long? "Until new liquefied gas production capacity becomes available, it will be difficult for another five years," predicts Thierry Trouvé.