Europe Fends Off Energy Crisis With Huge Stockpile of Natural Gas

Photo of liquefied natural gas storage
Photo of liquefied natural gas storage

Natural gas is stored in massive spherical containers in the Europoort industrial area of Rotterdam.

Europe has turned a surprising corner in preparation for the continent’s much-discussed impending energy crisis. The European Union now has more liquefied natural gas than it needs, according to reports from Bloomberg and the New York Times.

Ports are reportedly backed up, with tankard ships waiting to offload their gas supply to countries already flush with fuel, said the NYT. The E.U.’s gas storage has reached 93.6% capacity overall, with Germany storage at 97.5% full, according to Bloomberg. And natural gas prices have fallen to their lowest level since June, according to the Financial Times, and currently sit at levels less than a third of what they were during August’s record peak.

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The U-turn follows months of aggressive global gas imports by Europe, in response to Russian fuel cuts. A fall warm spell, which has meant lower-than-usual energy demand, is also partially responsible for Europe’s gas recovery. The warmer weather is forecast to continue through winter.

Normally, the E.U. relies on natural gas for somewhere between one-fifth and one-third of its energy. And in 2020, more than 40% of that gas was imported from Russia, according to Eurostat.

But this year, Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine put a squeeze on the E.U.’s energy supply. Amid the conflict and Russian threat of slashed shipment, the bloc of nations vowed to reduce their consumption of Russian fuel in March. Russia responded by doubling down in the summer and cutting its E.U. gas exports further.

Then, the Nord Stream pipelines failed, releasing a record amount of planet-warming methane and stopping the primary flow of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russia to Germany entirely. The pipeline leaks are widely suspected to be the result of intentional sabotage, and multiple European investigations determined explosions were set near the pipe. Europe has blamed Russia, Russia has denied those allegations and in turn blamed “the West.”

In lieu of its standard supply, Europe bridged some of its energy needs with renewables but also turned back to coal. And the E.U. looked farther afield to import liquefied natural gas. Prices skyrocketed, attracting gas exporters to the bloc—the United States, Qatar, and other countries (Russia included) all sent large shipments via boat, according to NYT.

Coupled with warm weather, the E.U.’s aggressive stockpiling strategy appears to have worked, for now—staving off the threat of energy shortages. However, near-capacity now doesn’t guarantee enough supply later. Even Germany’s very full storage is only enough to fulfill demand for about two months of winter weather, according to Bloomberg. “The test will come when we have the first cold snap and storage starts to empty,” said Jonathan Stern, the founder of the gas program at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, to the NYT.

Multiple outlets reported that Europe will need to continue bringing in natural gas through the winter to guard against things like dangerous cold-weather blackouts. And the recent lowered costs for LNG in the E.U. might make that a challenge. Granted, as NYT pointed out, the current natural gas price is still “historically elevated,” so much so that the European Commission is considering imposing a price cap.

Regardless, the ongoing instability of Europe’s fossil fuels highlights the need for a shift to renewable energy. On top of the obvious climate change downsides to burning gas and oil, LNG is not a reliable energy source in a conflict-filled world. The E.U. hasn’t been able to reach energy independence via fossil fuels, yet a diversified and sustainable energy grid could ensure cheap and dependable domestic electricity.

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