Russian natural gas exports to Germany grew to 40.2 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2013, a hefty increase over the preceding year’s 33.2 bcm, according to Gazprom’s sales report for 2013 (Interfax, January 16, 2014).
A growing share of that increasing volume enters Germany through the twin Nord Stream pipelines on the Baltic seabed, moving inland through the OPAL and NEL pipelines across Germany and potentially beyond. Gazprom is the main shareholder, operator and gas supplier in each of these three pipeline consortiums. With OPAL and NEL, Germany gains a new significance as transit country, as well as a prime customer country for Russian gas (see EDM, January 31, February 3, 6).
Gazprom is also accumulating gas storage capacities, indispensable to supporting its export and transit operations in Germany. Development of storage capacities had lagged behind pipeline construction in Gazprom’s export strategy in recent years. Nord Stream (incorporated in 2005 as a project) was built unaccompanied by gas storage sites, whether on Russian or on German territory. However, Gazprom and affiliated Russian firms have moved to develop underground gas storage capacities on German territory, linked with Gazprom’s pipeline holdings there. This process has recently been advancing.
Rehden, with a capacity of 4.2 bcm, is the largest underground gas storage site in Western Europe. Planning ahead for the NEL pipeline, Gazprom acquired co-ownership of Rehden through WINGAS, a Wintershall-Gazprom parity joint company. In 2012, operational control of Rehden (and some other storage sites—see below) passed from the jointly-owned WINGAS to Gazprom’s own subsidiary, Astora. By late 2013, Astora had fully taken over Rehden. The site is located in northwestern Germany, and Gazprom plans use this location for targeting the Netherlands’ gas market in addition to the German market (see EDM, January 20, 2014; astora.de, accessed February 11).
The Jemgum underground storage, also in northwestern Germany, has similarly been developed by WINGAS and handed over from it to Gazprom’s subsidiary Astora in late 2013. Jemgum is being filled with gas as of the first quarter of 2014. It has an initial capacity of almost 1 bcm, with further growth potential. Operator Astora currently shares Jemgum’s capacity with EWE (Ems-Weser-Elbe), the gas trader and network operator based in Germany’s northwest (astora.de, speicher-jemgum.de, accessed February 11).
Etzel, a storage site in the same area of Germany, has started first-phase operations in January of this year. Its target capacity is 1.2 bcm. Gazprom’s subsidiary Gazprom-Germania holds a 33-percent stake, alongside BP Europa and Danish DONG Energy with equal stakes in this storage. Gazprom-Germania is also a minority shareholder in the pipeline connecting Etzel with the Netherlands (gazprom-germania.de, ekb-storage.de, accessed February 11).
“Katharina,” near Bernburg in Saxony-Anhalt, is an underground storage site being developed by Gazprom-Germania with Verbundnetz Gas, in a 50-50 joint project. Last week in Moscow, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller and the Verbundnetz top management reviewed the work in progress. Commercial operation is planned to start in 2014 at Katharina. The site’s capacity is scheduled to be increased from some 200 million cubic meters at present to 600 million cubic meters by 2017. Verbundnetz procures and delivers natural gas, mainly from Gazprom, to Berlin and five other German federal lands. Gazprom-Germania holds a 10.5-percent stake in Verbundnetz Gas; and the Nord Stream general manager Matthias Warnig sits on the Verbundnetz Gas supervisory board (Interfax, February 7; vng.de, gazprom-germania.de, accessed February 11).
Haidach, the underground site in Austria near the border with Germany, stores gas for consumption in both countries, and also for distribution in Central Europe through the Baumgarten hub. Haidach operates mostly with Russian gas, and most of the site’s capacity is shared among Gazprom and its own trading subsidiaries. Since 2011 Haidach‘s storage capacity has been expanded to 2.6 bcm (astora.de, gazpromexport.ru, accessed February 11).
Storage sites controlled by Gazprom in Germany are planned to operate in correlation with Gazprom-controlled transmission pipelines. Thus, the Rehden storage site is connected with the NEL, WEDAL, MIDAL, and Rehden-Hamburg pipelines, all operated by the Gazprom-Wintershall joint company Gascade (gascade.de; see EDM, January 20). Like Rehden, the Jemgum storage site is also planned to connect with the NEL pipeline, which is designated to carry Nord Stream gas into northwestern Germany and the Netherlands. The Katharina storage facility is connected with the JEGAL pipeline, which, jointly operated by Gazprom with Wintershall, carries Russian gas from the Yamal-Europe pipeline. Katharina also seems designated to store Russian gas delivered through the OPAL pipeline.
This ongoing process adds a long-missing dimension to Gazprom’s export strategy in Europe. There, public debates have focused on Gazprom’s pipeline projects, overlooking storage development. The European Union’s Third Legislative Package precludes gas producers and suppliers from controlling the transport and storage infrastructure. Yet, instead of “unbundling,” Gazprom is actually bundling up storage sites along with pipelines under its control in Germany.