Gazprom will be able to increase gas transmission through the Nord Stream and Opal gas pipeline by 10 to 12 billion cubic metres in 2017, following the European Commission’s decision in late October to expand the Russian gas monopoly’s access to Opal, which links its Nord Stream pipeline with the Czech Republic and Germany.

Konstantin Simonov, the general director of the National Energy Security Fund in Moscow, writing for New Europe: “Meanwhile, other routes of gas supplies to the European market operate at their maximal technical (Yamal-Europe) and regulatory (Nord Stream) capacity. Moreover, before this heating season the European Commission approved an agreement suggested by the German gas network regulator Bundesnetz on settling the problem of Gazprom’s restricted access to Opal. In the previous five years Gazprom had been permitted to utilize only 50% of Opal capacity, although there is no other supplier, except Gazprom, that wants to use this branch pipeline.”

Simonov reminded that according to agreements, 50% of the transit capacity is reserved exclusively for Gazprom within the exception from the Third Energy Package rules; the other 50% is to be distributed at auctions. “However, now Gazprom has the right to take part in such auctions and book up to 40% of the capacity. The remaining 10% is left for some hypothetical third entities. It will enable Gazprom to increase gas transmission through the Nord Stream and Opal by 10 to 12 bcm next year,” Simonov writes.

Ukraine has expressed its concerns with the European Commission’s decision to ease Gazprom’s export restrictions on the Opal pipeline, worried that increased flows on Opal will reduce the volumes of Russian gas sent to Europe through Ukraine.

European Commission Vice President for the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič told New Europe in an interview in Strasbourg in December that the European Commission is the guardian of European law.

“When we received the proposal, which is according European law, from the German regulator to change the so-called exemption regime for the Opal pipeline, we had in reality two possibilities: the first one would be not act. In that case the proposal from the German regulator would be adopted. Second one would be to amend it, to improve it and that’s what we did,” Šefčovič said.

He stressed that the rejection on purely political ground would not stand in eventual court proceedings and it would also not be in accordance to World Trade Organization (WTO) procedures. What we did was we actually opened Third-Party Access for the Opal pipeline by 20 percent, which I think is very significant, and we do not share the concerns that it would lead to the immediate significant drop of the gas transit through Ukraine,” Šefčovič said.

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