Putin’s Russia seen dominating European gas for two decades

Europe has wanted to wean itself from Russian natural gas ever since supplies from its eastern neighbor dropped during freezing weather in 2009. Almost a decade later, the region has never been more dependent.

Gazprom PJSC, Russia’s state-run export monopoly, shipped a record amount of gas to the European Union last year and accounts for about 34 percent of the trading bloc’s use of the fuel. Russia will remain the biggest source of supply through 2035, Royal Dutch Shell Plc said last week, echoing comments by BP Plc in January.

EU lawmakers have had their hearts set on diversifying supplies with liquefied natural gas delivered by tanker from the U.S., where production of the fuel skyrocketed last year. So far, those shipments have failed to materialize amid a lack of firm contracts and higher prices outside Europe. Overall, LNG shipments to the region, led by Qatar, were stagnant last year.

“Russia will for sure remain Europe’s largest gas supplier for at least two more decades,” even if most of the incremental gains in EU imports are met by LNG from somewhere else, said Vladimir Drebentsov, chief economist for Russia and CIS at BP in Moscow.

Diversifying energy supplies and routes is one the key priorities for the European Commission, a spokesman with the commission said by email.
Gazprom Chairman Viktor Zubkov reiterated on Monday that 2017 European exports are expected to be close to last year’s level.

Read more about Russia’s grip on Europe’s gas here

But the company may face greater competition from LNG this summer as its oil-linked prices become less attractive relative to market rates, according to London-based analysts from Energy Aspects Ltd. to BMI Research.

More LNG will arrive in Europe from about mid-year as new plants start producing the fuel in the U.S. and Australia, increasing supply options for customers. Russian gas will also become more expensive after last year’s 52 percent gain in Brent crude.

The company has means to remain competitive. After adjusting price formulas in its export contracts, Gazprom has diluted the influence of oil prices in favor of linking revenue to Europe’s traded gas markets, a person close to the state-controlled producer said in October. That means its prices will adjust if a sudden inflow of gas from elsewhere depresses the market.

“I think there’s a lot more that Russia can do,” Melissa Stark, managing director for Energy and Utilities at Accenture Plc, said in an interview in London.“They can even be more commercial than they have been in the past. They’ve not had to be that commercially aggressive because they’ve a long-term contract type situation that they’ve been able to dominate.”

Europe’s domestic output is declining because of the natural aging of fields in the North Sea and production limits at the Dutch Groningen field, Europe’s biggest.

Read more about the Earth-Shaking Woes at Groningen here.

“There should be space for both increased LNG and Russian gas” in light of shrinking domestic production in the EU and improving demand, according to Christopher Haines, head of oil and gas at BMI Research. That’s provided “Russian gas prices continue to evolve to more closely reflect European hub prices,” he said.

Any fluctuations in Russian supplies into Europe tend to whipsaw markets. In January 2009, when the dispute with Ukraine last disrupted supplies, U.K. prices soared as much as 27 percent in one day.


Russia has enough reserves to remain Europe’s main gas provider for years to come, President Vladimir Putin said in December.

“Gazprom is supplying more gas to Europe than Russia or the Soviet Union ever did,” he said. “We have enough gas for ourselves, even considering the growing requirements of the Russian economy, and for our counteragents, the buyers of our gas.”

LNG will by 2025 surpass Norwegian gas as a share of supply, with both the liquid fuel and imports from Russia needed to offset declining domestic production, according to Shell, which controls about a fifth of the world’s LNG trade. Russia’s share of EU gas consumption will rise to 40 percent by 2035 from more than 30 percent now, according to BP.

Gazprom gas sales abroad account for more than 10 percent of Russia’s total exports and the company sees its market share holding or rising slightly to about 35 percent by 2025, management board member Oleg Aksyutin told investors in Singapore Tuesday.

Europe will remain Gazprom’s “priority market” and no one else can provide gas at the same price, Deputy Chief Executive Officer Alexander Medvedev said at the same event. U.S. LNG costs some 30 percent more than Gazprom’s gas in Europe supplied through its “most expensive” route, via Ukraine, Aksyutin said.

Russian volumes will stay above LNG in Europe if Asian demand is strong enough to absorb an oversupply of LNG, the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies said in a report published this week.

“There are so many moving parts now,” said James Henderson, an analyst at the OIES said. “So many more things are happening around the world that have an impact on the European gas market.”

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