Who’s Gouging Europe On Natural Gas Prices? Look To The Middle Man

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Neither the U.S. government nor its drillers are responsible for the high prices Europe is paying to import American natural gas, an industry expert said this week.

Anna Mikulska, who studies the geopolitics of natural gas, said the price derives from the seller’s response to the market.

“U.S. is a big supplier of European natural gas, but it’s not the U.S. producers,” said Mikulska, a fellow with the Baker Institute’s Center for Energy Studies. “It’s the companies that buy the gas from U.S. producers, and it usually goes where the price is highest.”

German Economy Minister Robert Habek accused the U.S. and other nations Tuesday of charging excessive prices for natural gas. The largest exporter of U.S. Liquified Natural Gas, Houston-based Cheniere Energy Partners, did not reply to a request for comment.

European Storage Full

Europe seems to be meeting its goal of storing sufficient supplies of natural gas for the coming winter, Mikulska said, an outlook shared by Goldman Sachs and the International Energy Agency.

“Currently the storage is at a very high level, sometimes 100 percent, most of the time beyond 80 percent,” Mikulska said Wednesday during the Baker Institute’s winter market update. “Europe really wanted this time around to have their storage full. They kind of learned a lesson last winter that it’s not a good thing (to have it less than full) especially if the supply is not given or is uncertain.”

Europe bolstered its storage not only by importing more gas from alternative sources, but by restricting industrial use of natural gas, which has some companies shifting production outside of Europe.

“This did not come at zero cost,” she said. “It came at a cost of cutting down demand in industry. And that’s the big story of this winter and the year coming forward. It’s not only about the inability to heat houses, which obviously is something that you are going to prevent, but it’s about the ability of Europe to recover going forward from the industrial downturn that cutting supply of gas to industry has caused.”

A cold winter could fracture European unity, she added, because each EU country has its own energy policy, and they could compete or conflict.

“If it’s very cold we will see, probably, it’s going to be a trial to the European solidarity and ability for Europe to manage its demand as a whole.”

Summer may not bring much relief next year, either, she added, if Europe has to refill its storage without any Russian gas. “That might be challenging,” she said.

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