Russia has reduced Nord Stream gas exports to Europe as the pipeline enters a scheduled 10-day maintenance period.
Although the routine repairs had been long-planned, some officials fear Russia might not restart the flow of gas in an attempt to destabilize Europe. Other repairs have missed deadlines in the past and now, Germany is bracing for a winter of limited gas supplies.
"As expected, Nord Stream 1 is at zero since this morning," Klaus Müller, the head of Germany's energy regulator, told Reuters on Monday.
"What happens at the end of the maintenance, nobody is able to say at this moment," he added. "We won't know any time sooner than a day before its scheduled end."
German Energy Minister Robert Habeck, speaking in the Czech Republic alongside Czech Industry Minister Josef Sikela on Monday, told reporters it',s "hard to say if it [Nord Stream I] will come back online after maintenance."
'Anything is possible'
Nord Stream, connecting Russia and Germany, is the longest subsea pipeline in the world and accounts for a significant chunk of the European Union's gas supply.
"We are confronted by an unprecedented situation — anything is possible," Economic Minister Habeck, told public radio over the weekend.
Habeck, who is also Germany's vice-chancellor, said that while the gas flow could restart at an even higher volume, "it is [also] possible that nothing comes through, and we still have to prepare for the worst."
In Prague, Habeck noted the need for European solidarity, saying, "Germany is aware gas needs to be distributed among others," and adding, "we will have to help each other with gas supplies."
On Sunday, the Canadian government allowed the return of a Nord Stream turbine that was being repaired and was stranded due to sanctions. Russia's state-owned energy company Gazprom blamed problems with the turbine for reducing the pipeline's output by 60% last month.
"Based on the pattern we've seen, it would not be very surprising now if some small, technical detail is found and then they could say 'now we can't turn it on anymore,'" Habeck previously said at an event in late June.
Zongqiang Luo, a gas analyst with Rystad Energy, also said it was "not impossible" Gazprom could use any delay to prolong the shutdown period.
Alternative supplies loom
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, many European countries have scrambled to devise alternative energy arrangements.
Pipelines exist that connect Europe with major gas exporters like Norway and Azerbaijan.
The United States has also said it could ship 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) this year. However, European terminals have limited capacity to store the resource.
But any change will take time to implement, and authorities in several European countries have discussed rationing gas in the worst-case scenario.
Müller, the head of Germany's energy regulator, previously warned: "If we no longer receive Russian gas... current stocks will only last for one or two months."
In Prague, Habeck announced, "two floating [LNG] terminals could be completed by the end of the year" in anticipation of shortfalls." Acknowledging that "Germany has become too dependent on Russia," Habeck said that "winter will be critical and we need to prepare as well as possible."
js,zc/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)