BRUSSELS — European officials are scrambling to lock down energy supplies they would need to keep their economies churning if hostilities around Ukraine imperil natural gas piped from Russia, and have turned to the U.S. for help finding backup sources beyond Moscow’s control.
In recent weeks, as Russia has positioned more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, European Union energy officials have huddled with U.S. counterparts and are jetting to gas producers including Azerbaijan and Qatar to hunt for fallback sources.
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European search efforts began in the fall, when the global economic rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic sent gas and electricity prices skyrocketing. The efforts intensified in recent weeks, as Moscow’s escalation with Kyiv left European governments contemplating a once-unthinkable scenario of a conflict interrupting the flows from Russia, which provides about 40% of the 27-country bloc’s natural gas. Few officials expect that to happen and acknowledge that huge volumes of gas from Russia couldn’t be replaced in the foreseeable future. But the prospect is motivating a quest for fallback supplies to cover an economy that can’t otherwise function.
“Russia provides about 40% of the 27-country European Union’s natural gas.”
Now, U.S. and European officials are racing to find short-term alternatives to refill depleted reserves. More than two-dozen tankers are en route from the U.S. to Europe, lured by high gas prices in the EU. Another 33 tankers that haven’t yet confirmed their destinations are likely to mainly head there as well, according to oil analytics firm Vortexa Inc. “They would only cover a fraction” of Russian supplies if all were lost, said Clay Seigle, managing director at Vortexa.
Biden administration officials in recent days have held marathon video calls with officials around the world, trying to convince buyers in South Korea, Japan and other countries that have already paid for their imports to let the U.S. reroute those shipments to Europe, people involved in those talks said. European officials have traveled or planned trips to Doha and the Azeri capital, Baku, to try to line up supply.
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