Efforts by the U.S. Senate to hamper a controversial natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany have probably come too late.
The Senate is yet to vote on a bill to impose sanctions on construction of the undersea part of the 750-mile Nord Stream 2 link under the Baltic Sea, but the project is already almost complete and scheduled to be finished this year.
The faltering U.S. attempt to prevent the pipeline mimics similarly unsuccessful moves to limit Soviet gas exports to Europe during the Reagan era in the early 1980s, according to Jonathan Stern, a senior research fellow at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
“They were resisted and ineffective then and I think we can expect the same result today,” he said. “This all looks likely to be too late to be very significant since most of these pipelines have already been laid, unless the U.S. attempts retroactive sanctions, which I think could really raise a storm on this side of the Atlantic.”
The project has split the European Union, with nations including Poland concerned about Russia’s Gazprom PJSC, already the region’s dominant supplier, boosting its influence in the region when the link is finished. It also raised trade tension with the U.S., with President Donald Trump warning that the project would boost dependence on Russia and Energy Secretary Rick Perry touting “freedom gas” from North America.
U.S. Sanctions Probably Wouldn’t Kill Nord Stream 2.
It’s not so much that this year’s attempts by the senators will stop the project, but there “might be a bit of disruption,” said Wayne Bryan, a trader and analyst at Alfa Energy Ltd. in London. Gas prices for 2020 in the Netherlands are 55% higher than for delivery next month, signaling the market’s assessment of heightened supply risk next year.
Germany and other backers of Nord Stream 2 say the pipeline is needed to replace coal and nuclear plants being shuttered across Europe in order to help back up intermittent renewable supply and meet climate goals.
The legislation creating the sanctions sponsored by Texas Republican Ted Cruz and New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen would target vessels that lay the pipeline and sanction executives from companies linked to those vessels. Shaheen said that the only companies that would be affected are Allseas Group SA of Switzerland and Saipem SpA.
“Saipem does not believe this legislation as drafted applies to Saipem’s existing contractual commitments for this project,” said Vincenzo Romeo Tramontano, a spokesman for the Milan-based company. “Saipem understands that this legislation is aimed at imposing future sanctions on certain vessels providing construction support” to the pipeline.
Allseas, which is laying the twin pipelines, declined to “speculate on potential impacts of proposed sanctions,” the company said by email.
While the U.S. had few objections to the first, almost identical, Nord Stream link that started operations in 2011, two subsequent events may help explain the current opposition.
The first is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a key transit nation for Gazprom’s gas that stands to lose billions of dollars if supplies go via Nord Stream 2 instead, which culminated in the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the imposition of sanctions by the U.S. and European Union. The second is the start of U.S. shale gas exports in 2016, which have since boomed to make the nation the third-largest liquefied natural gas exporter.
With plunging renewable-energy costs the U.S. may be worried about the future of global gas demand, said Laurent Segalen, a former commodities banker who is now a partner at Megawatt-X in London, advising on financing wind and solar projects.
“In Asia, U.S. LNG is undercut by the Qataris and the Aussies -- Germany is the prize, and the U.S. LNG industry want to snap it from the Russians,” he said. “If Nord Stream 2 goes through, the U.S. LNG exporters can kiss goodbye to hundreds of LNG cargoes to Germany in the coming years.”
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