The United States is in talks with Qatar and other major gas exporters to plan emergency measures in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine disrupting supplies to Europe.
Talks with Qatar and EU member states focused on securing additional liquefied natural gas cargo have become urgent as high-level security talks between Washington and Moscow made little progress this week.
This has heightened fears of a conflict that could affect gas supplies at a time when Europe is already facing record prices. However, authorities have warned that there is no “magic wand” to solve the potential shortage, as the continent is already in the grip of an energy crisis.
“We are looking at what can be done in preparation for an event, especially in the middle of winter with very low levels [European natural gas] supplies in stock, “said a senior US official.
“We discussed what can move in the market, what can help. . . the things we can prepare now for deployment if and when there is an escalating crisis. “
Tensions between the West and Russia have risen after Moscow deployed about 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s border. The United States has threatened severe sanctions against Russia if it invades, while some energy officials have accused the Kremlin of already using its gas exports.
Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, said last week that Russia was cutting off gas supplies to Europe at a time of “increased geopolitical tensions”.
There are fears that the conflict could lead to a further decline in gas supplies to Europe, which is facing a growing cost of living crisis and rising inflation as gas prices rise. As gas supplies are at record lows for the time of year, authorities fear that Europe could face industrial disruptions, uninterrupted power outages or even loss of heating supplies if Russian exports fall sharply after the invasion.
A senior official in Joe Biden’s administration acknowledged that existing contracts between liquefied natural gas exporters and Asian buyers could complicate efforts to shift supplies to Europe.
“There is no magic wand,” the official said. “Everything is very difficult, really complicated. We are looking to do it within the constructs of how markets work, how trade conditions work, how cargo works. “
The official added that it was becoming increasingly clear that Russia had been cutting gas supplies in recent months in order to gain influence in European capitals.
“This is not a market situation we are dealing with. These are not market forces. These are manipulated markets, “the official said.
Europe’s reliance on Russian gas has complicated efforts to present a united front against Moscow’s threats.
While most observers expect Russia to avoid a full reduction in exports, there are fears that Moscow may still cut supplies further or that Ukraine’s gas export infrastructure could be damaged by conflict.
Energy officials also warned of the potential impact of US sanctions after Biden said this week that sanctions could include stopping Russian banks from trading in US dollars, the world’s main commodity currency.
An executive director of the energy industry said Europe would almost certainly face extremely high prices in the event of a disruption, which could require coordinated government action to supply seafood for liquefied natural gas.
“They will have to compete effectively for all supplies on the market, taking goods from Asia, and the likely end result is for the taxpayer to pay,” the energy chief said.
“It would be like buying PPE at the beginning of a pandemic, and governments need to intervene.