The US is leading efforts to build a coalition of LNG exporting countries that could deliver natural gas to Europe should Russia curtail energy supplies to the continent.
Russia has responded to threats of western sanctions over its military buildup on the Ukraine border by continuing to tighteng up on its gas supplies to Europe, where colder weather and high gas prices are taking a political and economic toll.
Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the administration is “in discussion with major natural gas producers around the globe to understand their capacity and willingness to temporarily surge natural gas output and to allocate these volumes to European buyers”.
Psaki added: “We are also engaging with major buyers and suppliers of LNG to ensure flexibility in existing contracts and storage is managed and enables diversion to Europe. We are preparing a range of contingencies should there be a disruption, for a range of reasons, to natural gas.”
The stability of Russian energy supplies has reportedly become a point of contention between the US and Germany as discussions between the two countries on a package of retaliation measures and sanctions against the Kremlin progress.
According to a Bloomberg report, Germany has asked the US to exclude energy from the package, though the country is ready to support restrictions on Russian banks, the country’s debt instruments and state-controlled companies.
German gas dependence
Germany is heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies that today flow to the country via Gazprom-led Nord Stream pipeline across the Baltic Sea at the average rate of about 200 million cubic metres per day.
Germany’s average domestic gas demand is estimated at 400 MMcmd or more at this time of the year but can fluctuate significantly.
Along with filling domestic demand, Germany delivered natural gas to Poland at an average rate of over 22 MMcmd in the second half of this month.
Since 1 January, Gazprom has drastically cut gas supplies to the country via the Yamal Pipeline running across Belarus, with deliveries averaging 5 MMcmd, or more than 20 times below January 2021 levels.
Germany’s gas storage facilities were estimated to be about 42% full in the second half of January, Gazprom tweeted earlier this week, with Gazprom-controlled storage in the country reportedly almost empty, suggesting to analysts that supplies could dry up if Russian gas flows are halted.
Psaki did not elaborate on any potential disagreements between Washington and Berlin, saying only that the administration expects German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to arrive in Washington later in February for talks on building “unity” around a response to a possible Russian invasion.
Earlier this week, Biden stressed that there was agreement among Western powers.
“I had a very, very, very good meeting – total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Biden told reporters following a videoconference with leaders from Europe and Nato on 24 January.
Psaki has not given details on reported US talks with Qatar — currently the world’s second largest LNG supplier — on securing additional gas shipments to Europe.
“It is a broad approach that includes engagement with Europeans, as well as suppliers in North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and in the US”, Psaki said.
Australia’s Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said that the country “stands ready to assist with any request for further supplies” of LNG, according to reports.
Australia’s LNG exports hit a record high of 80.9 million tonnes last year, with Qatar’s shipments of LNG to global markets estimated at about 78 million tonnes and US gas supplies to outside markets overtaking 70 million tonnes in 2021.
The Kremlin has shown no willingness to ease tensions with the US and Europe. State television showed fighter jets, said to be based in the country's far east, landing in Belarus for what Moscow described earlier as joint drills.