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Hot or cold?

Analysis - Will a new gas pipeline from Norway head off shortages this winter?

On Sunday a new 40Mm 3/day of capacity gas pipeline between Norway and Britain comes on stream. But as the first gas flows through, there is concern that it may not be used to full capacity and that gas shortages remain a risk this winter.

At 1,200km, the new Langeled line is the world's longest sub sea pipeline. It is part of the NOK17bn (£1.4bn) Ormen Lange project which also includes offshore installations and onshore processing facilities.

But the pipeline is not quite the lifeline many had hoped for.

Its capacity may be 40Mm 3/day but the supply situation means that the UK will only realistically receive another 15Mm 3/day.

'This is because the Langeled line will replace the Vesterled line which currently transports 20Mm 3 a day. The capacity (in the old pipeline) will still be there so gas can flow down the line at a later date, but from the consultation with industry this is what's expected, ' says a National Grid spokesman.

However, the situation is graver still. There is no real certainty that there will be any increase of gas to the UK, it is equally likely gas flow will fall.

The export of gas from Europe or Norway to the UK is not simply decided on the demand for and price of gas across Europe.

Some national gas suppliers will also deliver gas to their domestic markets in response to local loyalties or responsibilities rather than just price, explains ICE Energy Board vice chairman Anthony Price.

'We are getting the infrastructure but have a problem with the market, ' says Price. 'We're sitting at the bottom of the supply chain thinking it is a totally free market, but it isn't.' Local weather conditions across Europe will also influence supplies to the UK. National Grid's Winter Consultation report published last week says 'the weather in Europe this winter will have a direct impact on gas demand, and will therefore be a key determinant of the volume of gas available for export to the UK.

Clearly, there is a risk that a cold winter in the UK would coincide with a cold winter across Europe'.

And additional imports from Norway along the new pipeline do not guarantee an overall increase in supplies.

Norway exports gas to the rest of Europe too, so it is possible that diverting extra supplies to Britain could result in exports from other European countries being restricted, as suppliers attempt to cover shortfalls from Norway.

'One of the key uncertainties for this winter would be an early, sustained spell of extremely cold weather, ' says Wood Mackenzie's European gas and power research senior analyst, Graham Tyler.

'As indigenous production volumes are still ramping up to peak winter swing levels early on in the winter, a cold spell at this time could increase the call on seasonal storage volumes.

This occurred last year, and a repeat may have consequences over the rest of this winter.' Ministers are currently putting pressure on the Europeans to improve the fair flow of gas through the interconnector pipeline at Zebrugge, although the situation is still unresolved.

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