Vienna decided on Monday to connect its giant Hydok gas reservoir to the Austrian energy grid. Since the tank is on its national territory, an action is considered legal, except for the one used by Germany until now. But the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis changed everything.
A concrete example of the problems caused by Russia’s gas war is inland Austria, not far from the city of Salzburg, 32 km from the German border. An imbroglio is brewing around the giant Hydok gas reservoir, Moscow announced on Monday, July 25. Significant reduction in precious hydrocarbon supply through to Europe Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline.
Hours before this Russian decision, Austria’s Minister of Energy and Environment, Leonor Küssler, told the German press The Hydac reservoir will henceforth be used to meet the energy needs of Austrians.
Second largest gas reservoir in Western Europe
An announcement that sent shivers down the spine of many Länder (German administrative regions) in southern Germany, starting with the all-powerful Bavaria. effect, For historical and economic reasonsThe Hydok site, although located in Austria, has so far only been connected to the German energy grid and has mainly been used to supply electricity to Bavaria.
“We are observing the evolution of the situation [à Haidach, NDLR] With great care,” agreed Bavaria’s Minister-President Markus Soder.
This area has become accustomed to relying on power in the hydach for many years. This reservoir is 2.9 billion m3 Gas, it is the second largest in Western Europe behind Rehden (Northern Germany). So there was plenty to quench South Germany’s thirst for energy.
Since its inception in 2007, the site has been operated by Vingas and Astora, two subsidiaries of Gazprom Germany (Nationalized by Berlin in April 2022) and GSA, another branch of the Russian giant. Austria only technically manages the installation.
The distribution of tasks centered on Germany explains why this gas returned to Germany instead of staying on Austrian soil. As surplus gas was diverted to the two Austrian regions (Tyrol and Vorarlberg) connected to the German gas pipeline, it was enough for Bavaria to do business without missing the opportunity to recall that Austria also benefited from the system.
But the war in Ukraine changed Vienna’s game. Austria is 80% dependent on Russian gas, which puts the country at the top of the list of losers if Russia shuts off the pipeline entirely.
Bavaria, from spoiled child to gas poor relative?
In May, the Austrian government set out a plan to reduce this dependency to 70%. To capture this few percent of energy “independence”, Vienna must increase its strategic reserves as much as possible to obtain a cushion of gas security. The plan calls for multiplying them by three. Austrian daily Salzburger Nachrichten explains.
The huge Hydok reservoir plays an important role in this regard. The Austrian government is ready to pull out the heavy artillery by taking Gazprom out of the picture so that the reservoir will allow the country to stay warm through the winter.
In fact, German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung noted that the Russian firm no longer supplies the nearly empty reservoir, citing data from the European platform. Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE).
Austria has thus adopted a law which places notice on the operator of a reservoir to fill it. If the latter does not comply, the government reserves the right to propose that others store their gas there. If this threat seems important, the truth is, “We don’t know who else can fill this reservoir except the Russians.” Bearisher Rundfunk notes, Bavarian public radio.
Nevertheless, all this device was enough to scare Bavaria, which already sees itself going from the status of the spoiled child of the Russian gas to its poor cousin.
Vienna and Berlin sought to reassure the powerful land of southern Germany. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck traveled to Vienna on July 12 to discuss the thorny issue of the future of the tank with Austrian Energy Minister Leonor Kevesler. During this meeting an agreement was concluded for the German-Austrian joint use of the Haidach. Süddeutsche Zeitung has learned.
But Munich – the capital of Bavaria – wants proof. Markus Söder, who did not like not being invited to this German-Austrian meeting, wants “more transparency about this deal and a clear update on the amount of gas from Haidach allocated to Germany”.
For the minister-president of Bavaria, the Hydach reservoir very quickly “explains the limits. “Energy Unity” is recommended by the European Union, he told the Munich daily Merkur. He fears that come winter, the Austrian government will be tempted to ignore the deal with Berlin to meet its population’s energy needs.
The Bavarian concern can be explained by the fact that the change in the status of the Haidach highlights the extreme weakness of the energy supply in southern Germany. These regions – mainly Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg – are far from large reservoirs such as Rehden in the north of the country. “We are the last links in the chain, in the north, if they use themselves unhindered, we will not have a single drop, which is unacceptable,” warned Nicole Hofmeister-Kraud, Minister of Economy of the Land. From Baden-Württemberg.
Liquefied gas terminals installed on the coast of northern Germany to accommodate North American natural gas are “too far from Bavaria to properly serve this region”, The daily Die Zeit notes.
Realizing that the winter would be particularly harsh for him and his Bavarian countrymen, Marcus Soder issued an ultimatum, promising that “if Bavaria loses its gas, the whole of Germany will suffer.”
Only the land reflects, it is true, 18.3% of German GDP, Especially thanks to its chemical industry and its automotive sector, recalls the Süddeutsche Zeitung. A few kilometers from the Austrian border is what the Germans call the “Golden Triangle of German Chemistry”. The primary and most important operational area of the entire land is due to easy access to gas from Heydach. Almost 20,000 jobs would be threatened if this “golden triangle” lost power from Austria.
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