March 4. 2024. 6:30

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EU countries seek legal option to stop Russian LNG imports


European Union countries agreed on Tuesday (28 March) to seek a legal option to stop Russian companies sending liquefied natural gas to EU nations, by preventing Russian firms from booking infrastructure capacity.

EU countries’ energy ministers proposed that new EU gas market rules should include the option for governments to temporarily stop Russian and Belarusian gas exporters from bidding up-front for capacity on the infrastructure needed to deliver LNG into Europe.

The proposal is part of countries’ negotiating position on new EU gas market rules. It must be negotiated with the European Parliament – a process that can take months.

The 27-country EU has pledged to ditch Russian gas in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Europe’s pipeline imports of gas from Russia have plunged since the invasion, but LNG imports have increased.

Russian LNG deliveries to Europe increased last year – to 22 bcm, up from around 16 bcm in 2021, according to EU analysis.

The LNG volumes were far lower than the 155 bcm of pipeline gas Moscow had sent Europe each year before the Ukraine war. Europe replaced most of those volumes with LNG from alternative suppliers like the United States, renewable energy and energy savings.

Russia is still sending some pipeline gas to Europe via Ukraine, enough to total 20bcm this year if current flows remain stable.

Lithuanian Vice Minister for Energy Albinas Zananavicius said the proposal would avoid a situation where LNG infrastructure designed to help countries swap Russian gas for alternatives, was in fact being used to import more from Moscow.

“You build the infrastructure to get rid of the supplier who manipulated your (gas) markets and caused great difficulties to you – and then you accept the same supplier through LNG? There’s something wrong with the logic,” he told Reuters.

If approved, the proposal would offer member states a route to stop Russian LNG imports without using sanctions – which are politically harder to greenlight because they need unanimous approval from all 27 EU member states.

Hungary said it could not support the negotiating position on the new EU gas market law, which also includes a raft of new rules to integrate more low-carbon gases.

EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson this month urged European companies not to sign new Russian LNG deals – a request also made by Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera to firms in Spain.

However, such requests are not binding, since Russian gas and LNG are not subject to EU sanctions. The EU does have a ban on seaborne crude oil and oil products imports from Russia.