Without Russia, gas is now rising in the West
Under the Vosges village, pipes to save Europe: near Vittel, the Morelmaison compressor station draws gas from Norway, Qatar or the United States to push it towards Europe and especially Germany. .
In the center of a bucolic landscape, this industrial area fulfills a discreet but important mission of transporting gas to Europe, especially to Germany, which was 55% dependent on Russia before the Ukrainian war.
On the surface, there are valves and pipes, but there’s very little spectacular activity at this remote-controlled site, staffed by just four people.
The Morelmaison station is no less strategic: it provides an interconnection between the gas pipeline, which has historically brought gas from Norway, north of Dunkirk, and another in the direction of Switzerland, historically Russian gas from the northeast. From Germany to the south of France.
There are 26 gas compression stations, such as Morelmaison, distributed across France in a 32,527 km pipeline network operated by French gas transportation manager GRTgaz.
They allow connecting the arteries coming and going to the station through a series of valves, and also increase the gas pressure to compensate for the losses during the transport due to the turbines. “Increasing pressure allows gas to be pushed into the pipes,” Guillaume Steschenko, deputy head of GRTgaz’s compression department, told AFP.
“Gas flows through the station supply Germany, Switzerland and Belgium and therefore (…) allow us to show solidarity in a very concrete way and compensate for the reduction of flows from Russia,” emphasizes the company’s head, Guillaume Tuffigo. Marketing department at GRTgaz.
Gas entrance door
With Russian gas running dry in the pipeline, Europe has had to diversify its supply by using Norwegian natural gas and liquefied natural gas from Qatar and the United States.
France, which has long been seen by gas companies as a “dead end” for Russian gas, has paradoxically become one of Europe’s gas gateways due to the absence of gas from Moscow, or nearly so.
Thierry Found, CEO of GRTgaz, admits that the idea was “unthinkable just two years ago”. “We didn’t see much reason to think that the East-West flow could be questioned,” he adds. Didn’t they say in the gas industry, “Russian gas kept coming throughout the cold war”?
Historically, gas came to France via Germany and Belgium for consumption in the area or to be diverted to Spain and Switzerland. But since the war, the direction of gas mains and pipes has been reversed. Specifically, France buys gas from Spain and “now flows go from France to Belgium and Germany”, explains Guillaume Tuffigo.
France increased its gas supply to Switzerland 7 times in 2022 compared to 2021 through the GRTgaz network. At the same time, GRTgaz bought 70% less gas from Germany in 2022 than in 2021 (52 terawatt hours in 2021 and only 14 TWt in 2022).
Symbolizing this historic turn, France has been sending gas directly to its German neighbor since October 13 under a mutual aid agreement between the two countries.
On 22 November, 2.7 TWh of gas – equivalent to the supply of three nuclear reactors – was sent to Germany via the Obergailbach (Moselle) gas border post, itself a no-go area linked to Morelmaison. France provides a technically feasible maximum transmission capacity of 100 GWh/day at this stage.
For now, Europe, which is fully stocked (93% on Wednesday), is going without Russian gas pipelines, but for when? “It’s going to be tough for another five years while we wait for new liquefied gas production opportunities,” predicts Mr. Trouvé.