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Gas shortage hits eastern Europe, Greece, Italy and Austria

BRUSSELS -- Russian natural-gas supplies to Europe were curtailed for a third straight day Friday, as particularly cold winter weather increased Russia' s domestic demand and hit flows to a number of European Union countries.

"There has been a decrease in gas deliveries," Marlene Holzner, a spokeswoman for EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, told reporters. "Russia needs more gas itself; they are having an extremely cold winter," she said. Holzner noted that the situation isn' t causing an emergency because all affected member states are currently able to meet the supply shortfall by buying natural gas from neighbors, using storage capacity, or importing liquefied natural gas.

The EU Friday afternoon activated a group of industry, government and energy experts that gather in emergency cases. It has started sharing information and is monitoring the situation, Holzner said. While exact figures for Friday aren' t yet available, Thursday' s supplies from Russia to Austria declined by 30%, to Italy by 24% and to Poland by 8%, she said. Other countries affected include Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece.

Ukraine, a transit country for around two-thirds of Russian natural-gas supplies to Europe, was the first to be hit. "There is a significant cold snap in Russia and the supply of gas to the Ukraine has fallen significantly," Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Boiko said Friday in comments confirmed by a spokesman.

Any reduction in natural-gas flows from Russia attracts strong attention in the EU, after repeated crises in recent years. In 2009, a tough dispute over price between Russia and Ukraine caused Moscow' s natural-gas supplies to EU countries to plunge, crippling the flow to some countries for weeks.

Russian state natural-gas company Gazprom gave advance warning to EU companies about possible flow reductions, an EU official said Friday, noting there was currently no reason to believe there was any ill intent behind the disruption.

The impact on EU member countries has been mixed. Poland' s natural-gas monopoly, PGNiG, said it expects small-scale irregularities in natural-gas deliveries coming over its eastern border in the next few days due to the low temperatures throughout Europe, but noted that supplies from Gazprom have returned to the amounts ordered.

Franco-Belgian power operator GDF Suez, meanwhile, said it didn' t notice any change in supplies as of Friday.

But in Italy, Russian natural-gas flow was 29% less than requested for Friday via an entry point in the north-east of the country, according to data available on the website of Snam SpA, which runs the natural-gas grid, as of 1300 GMT. Russia represents around 30% of Italy' s imports, with the rest coming mainly from Algeria, Libya, Norway, and liquefied natural gas from Qatar.

Wingas--Germany' s second-largest importer of natural gas and a 50-50 joint venture between German chemicals giant BASF SE' s Wintershall unit and Gazprom--also said Friday that Russian natural gas was arriving in reduced volumes, but declined to quantify the amount. But Wingas added that there was no issue in terms of security of supply because the company is well diversified and has solid levels of storage.

German utility RWE said Friday it still is receiving around 30% less natural gas than it has requested its supplier Gazprom to deliver amid consistently severe cold weather.

Since the 2009 crisis, the EU has improved its capacity to respond to natural-gas shortages. Member countries have improved storage capacity and increased interconnections to enable the movement of natural gas in many different directions among them.

In the EU, companies have to guarantee that they can supply certain customers for as much as 30 days, even in the case of an exceptionally high natural-gas demand or a disruption to their infrastructure. Russian natural-gas accounts for roughly 25% of total EU natural-gas consumption.

Dow Jones Newswires



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