By Isla Binnie
MADRID (Reuters) – The European Union will consider whether to require member states to fill their natural gas storage to prescribed levels, a senior official said as the bloc seeks energy security amid fears of a conflict in Ukraine involving major supplier Russia.
Tight supply and surging demand to fuel economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic forced European gas prices to record highs last year, prompting Brussels to start working on protecting its energy system from supply shocks or price spikes.
Speaking three days after a draft document showed Brussels may impose minimum gas storage requirements, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson referred to laws already in place in some countries to bolster stocks ahead of each winter.
“Right now this is national legislation. We have to analyse if this kind of legislation at EU level is necessary,” Simson told a news conference in Madrid on Monday.
“We have to be prepared for the next heating season.”
The draft, seen by Reuters, contained a proposal to oblige member states to ensure minimum storage by Sept. 30 every year. The proposal could change before it is published.
Concerns about a possible conflict intensified on Monday as Russia’s military said that Ukrainian saboteurs had tried to enter Russian territory in armed vehicles, an accusation dismissed by Kyiv amid Western accusations that Moscow could fabricate a pretext to invade.
Gas needs to be stored – typically in salt caverns or depleted gas fields – to balance variations in demand over the course of days and seasons and to be drawn on to cover supply disruptions, infrastructure outages or unusually cold weather.
European gas storage is currently at 32% of capacity compared with around 40% a year ago.
Simson said that measures surrounding gas storage would not mimic rules which require member countries of the International Energy Agency to hold emergency oil stocks.
“We don’t propose at this very moment a similar kind of strategic natural gas reserve (to that) we have in oil products,” she said.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Pravin Char)