Spot gas prices in Europe have marched up again this week on renewed concerns over the stability of import gas deliveries to the continent at the end of December and January next year, as well as cold weather forecasts.
Gas futures contracts for January deliveries rose by almost 4% to the equivalent of about $1450 per thousand cubic metres (€120 per megawatt-hour) at the TTF hub in the Netherlands, where most of the trading and liquidity are concentrated.
Traders have been reacting to the growing consensus that Europe is unlikely to see any additional gas supplies from Russia during the first quarter.
The Kremlin has repeatedly linked such increase with demands for German authorities to providing prompt certification for the Gazprom-owned and operated subsea gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, which runs across the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.
However, speaking to German television network ZDF on Sunday, the country’s recently appointed Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock repeated recent firm pronouncements that “this pipeline can not be approved because it does not meet the requirements of European energy law and the security issues are still in the room”.
The German Federal network agency suspended Nord Stream 2 certification on technical grounds earlier this year.
Expectations that Gazprom and Nord Stream 2 would swiftly comply with the agency’s requirements to enable the start of gas supplies from Russia have not been met.
Additionally, a 14-day weather forecast for north-west Europe released this week predicts below-average temperatures on the continent, potentially leading to higher outflows of gas from European underground storage facilities.
Despite such predictions of higher gas demand at its core markets in Europe, Gazprom has not significantly increased deliveries to Germany via the onshore Yamal Pipeline that transits Belarus and Poland this week, according to data from German transmission operator Gascade.
Supplies via existing Nord Stream pipeline to Germany even declined slightly from 10 December and remained unchanged via Ukraine, according to Gazprom.
Citigroup analysts wrote in a research note that gas prices in Europe are soaring because of “a nervousness around demand in the remaining months of winter”, even though physical gas market is "less tight than it was four to six weeks ago”, the note said.
Another point of concern is repeated threats by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to halt the transit of Russian gas to Poland and Belarus at any time.
Relations between Lukashenko and European governments reached new lows last week after Poland published new evidence of a Belarus intelligence officer, overseeing and guiding the diversion of a Ryanair passenger jet to Minsk in May on a false pretext to seize a prominent exile and critic of Lukashenko.