Dutch Government Activates ‘Early Warning’ Because of Russian Cutbacks on Gas

The Dutch government said on Monday that Russia’s tightening of gas supplies to Europe had prompted it to declare an “early warning” stage of a natural gas crisis, a move that will allow more electric power to be generated by burning coal.

Russia’s actions in recent days — chiefly the reduction of flows by about 60 percent through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany — have markedly darkened the mood in Europe on energy. Governments and industry in Europe are now convinced that Moscow plans to use gas as a political weapon against the largest European economies in the coming months. This means that major European nations, not just a handful like Bulgaria and Poland, are likely to see gas supplies trimmed or cut completely and need to take steps to reduce their vulnerability.

Already gas flows have been cut not only to Germany but to other countries, including Italy and France, analysts and government officials say. The Dutch government said there were as yet “no acute gas shortages” in the Netherlands but that declining supplies “could have consequences.”

“We now see that the total gas supplies from Russia to Europe are declining rapidly,” said the energy and climate minister, Rob Jetten, in a statement. Mr. Jetten said that without taking measures the Netherlands and Europe generally would not be guaranteed to be able to fill up gas storage facilities “sufficiently in preparation for the winter.”

Most European countries build up gas stocks in the summer when demand is low, in preparation for the winter, when gas consumption soars for heating. Insufficient reserves could lead to higher prices and increase Europe’s vulnerability to Russian blackmail on energy.

The Dutch government said it was taking immediate steps to curb consumption of gas. These include lifting limits on coal-fired electric power stations until 2024. The government also said it would encourage residents and businesses to save gas, including by giving a financial incentive to large industrial users to cut their consumption.

Over the weekend the German government took similar steps with regard to coal, and Austria said it would allow the conversion of a gas-fired power plant to coal.

The Dutch government is resisting some calls to ramp up output at the Groningen gas field, a major provider in the north of the country that officials have scheduled to close because of earthquakes triggered by the extraction of the fuel. The government appears to be trying to keep its options open on Groningen, which is operated by a joint venture owned by Shell and Exxon Mobil.

The government said in its statement that it had decided not to shut “any wells definitively this year” because of what it called “uncertain geopolitical developments.”

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