Russia’s Gazprom closes gas pipeline to Europe for three days

Russia’s Gazprom closes gas pipeline to Europe for three days

MOSCOW (AP) – A key Russian natural gas pipeline will be shut down for three days for maintenance later this month, state-owned energy company Gazprom announced on Friday, increasing economic pressure on Germany and other European countries that depend on the fuel around the industry to supply electricity, to generate electricity and to heat houses.

The latest shutdown comes a month after Gazprom restored natural gas supply through the pipeline to just a fifth of its capacity following a previous shutdown for maintenance.

Russia has blamed technical problems for the pipeline’s reductions, but Germany has called the shutdowns a political move by the Kremlin to sow uncertainty and boost prices amid conflict in Ukraine.

Natural gas prices rose on Friday after the announcement and are now more than double what they were a year ago.

In a statement published online, Gazprom said the scheduled Aug. 31-September 2 shutdown was for “routine maintenance” at a key compressor station along the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which connects western Russia and Germany.

Natural gas prices have skyrocketed as Russia reduced or suspended natural gas supplies to a dozen European Union countries, fueling inflation and raising the risk that Europe could slide into recession.

Germany’s economy ministry said in an email to The Associated Press that it had taken note of Gazprom’s plans to shut down Nord Stream 1.

“We are monitoring the situation in close cooperation with the Federal Network Agency,” which regulates the gas markets, the ministry said. “Gas flows through Nord Stream 1 are currently unchanged at 20%.”

The newly announced maintenance shutdown raises additional fears that Russia could shut off gas entirely to try to gain political clout over Europe as it seeks to ramp up its winter storage capacity.

Germany recently announced that its gas storage facilities had reached 75% capacity two weeks ahead of the September 1st target date. The Germans have been asked to curb gas consumption now so that the country has enough for the coming winter.

Gazprom said once the work is complete, gas flow through Nord Stream 1 will resume at its previous level of 33 million cubic meters, or just 20% of the pipeline’s capacity.

Routine maintenance is carried out together with Siemens specialists, Gazprom said with reference to German partner Siemens Energy.

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