Despite the Ukraine war, Russian gas continues to flow to Germany in large quantities. The gas storage tanks are filling up, but now there is a problem. The Gazprom storage facility in Rehden, Lower Saxony, remains empty. Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck is now intervening.

The fill level in German gas storage tanks reached the 50 percent mark this week. According to the daily updated data from the Federal Network Agency, the German gas storage facilities are exactly 48.63 percent full at the start of the week. Shortly after the outbreak of the Ukraine war in mid-March, the fill levels were at a low of just 24.2 percent.

The stored gas quantities have thus doubled in the three months of the war. They are now significantly higher than in spring 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2021. The gas supply freeze to Shell only affects small quantities and “so far has not had any impact on the security of supply in Germany,” says the network agency

In fact, despite the war and sanctions, Russia is pumping huge amounts of gas to Germany every day. The mild weather in spring also helped. From mid-March, unusually high temperatures prevailed in Germany; some days it got warmer than 20 degrees. As a result, there was significantly less heating.

The gas network suppliers usually react to this by registering fewer gas volumes. The gas consumption is strongly dependent on the temperature. The winter requirement is about eight times higher than that in summer.

Despite the 50 percent filling, the network agency remains concerned. The Federal Network Agency’s President, Klaus Müller, warns that the storage facilities are still “not well enough filled”.

The gas storage facilities in Germany are filling up “better than in previous years”, but they are “not yet filled well enough if we were to get less or no more Russian gas in the short term”. If Germany’s entire gas consumption were to be fed from the reserves, these would now only last for around 72 days.

By November, the filling levels must have reached around 90 percent in order to get through the winter with any degree of safety. The federal government has passed a corresponding law for this purpose. Accordingly, the gas storage tanks must be 80 percent full by October 1st and 90 percent by November 1st. But that could be difficult this year.

In Germany there are 47 underground storage facilities at 33 locations operated by around 25 companies. But of all things, the largest gas storage facility in Germany does not fill up at all. It is operated by the Gazprom Germania subsidiary Astora, which falls under the new sanctions. The storage facility is located in Rehden, Lower Saxony. It accounts for around a fifth of German capacity.

The warehouse in Rehden was unusually empty before the outbreak of war. Apparently, Gazprom had hardly filled its storage facilities since the summer of 2021. Many experts suspect the Russian government’s political leverage behind this.

“The fact that they haven’t filled since last summer is of course a catastrophe and clearly strategic warmongering,” says Michael Sterner, head of the research center for energy networks and energy storage at the East Bavarian Technical University of Regensburg.

And Peter Markewitz, a scientist at the Institute for Energy and Climate Research at Forschungszentrum Jülich, says that there is no apparent market-based reason for this behavior.

From Odessa With Love: Political and Literary Essays in Post-Soviet Ukraine

“After all, the other storage operators all behaved differently,” says Markewitz. “In this respect, the suspicion arises that it was driven by interests.” In the meantime, the Federal Network Agency has temporarily taken over the business of Gazprom Germania as a trustee.

The situation is getting worse because Russia recently stopped supplying gas to Holland and Denmark. Ludwig Möhring, General Manager of the Federal Association of Natural Gas, Oil and Geoenergy e.V. (BVEG), warns: “The problems of filling the storage tanks in summer for the winter will not become any smaller as a result.”

That is why Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) is now intervening. He causes a bang: he snatches the memory from Russian access by decree. In official German, the ministerial coup is called “Ordinance on the Provision of Interruptible Storage Capacities to Ensure Security of Supply”, also known as the “Gas Storage Filling Ordinance”.

The Ministerial Ordinance, which was published in the Federal Gazette on Wednesday and comes into force this Thursday, enables the gas market manager, the Ratingen-based company “Trading Hub Europe” (THE), to fill the storage facility. The storage rights of the Gazprom parent company Gazprom Germania had previously been terminated, it said.

“Since the storage levels of Germany’s largest gas storage facility in Rehden have been at a historic low for months, it is necessary to act quickly,” Habeck announced via press release. The Economics Minister wants to regain complete control over the natural gas storage facility.

Over the past few years, Gazprom has taken over the strategically important Rehden bit by bit – both in terms of operation and storage. It was not until 2015 that the BASF subsidiary Wintershall Dea was fully taken over via an asset swap.

The deal was flanked politically by the then Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD). It is now eagerly awaited how Russia will react to Habeck’s coup.

*The article “Gazprom empties German gas storage – now Habeck dares the coup against Putin group” is published by The European. Contact the person responsible here.