Parliament approves rules to secure gas supply

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The European Parliament yesterday (21 September) endorsed a new regulation to prop up Europe's preparedness to deal with gas supply crises.

An overwhelming majority of MEPs voted in favour of a political compromise reached on the Regulation on Security of Gas Supply in June.

The new rules seek to give the EU the capacity to respond to gas supply disruptions and step up the development of interconnections.

They require member states to establish preventive action and emergency plans and grant the European Commission a strong role in coordinating emergency responses. The EU executive will also scrutinise the prevention plans with a view to ensuring that they do not endanger another member state's security of supply.

The agreement also seeks to correct the lack of interconnections, which was identified as having greatly contributed to the difficulties in getting supplies to Eastern Europe, where gas was largely cut off during the January 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas row.

EU countries will have four years to get their gas networks up to a standard where they can meet gas needs on days of "exceptionally high demand" – which statistically occur once every 20 years – even when their biggest source of gas or a major section of the network fails. Moreover, they will have to put in place reverse flow technology in all cross-border interconnections within three years.

Most EU member states have already started risk assessments and put in place the infrastructure required to safeguard gas supplies, the Commission said.

The regulation also seeks to shield European consumers from the impact of supply disruptions. It obliges gas companies to guarantee supplies to householders for at least 30 days during periods of exceptionally high demand or in the event of infrastructure disruption under normal winter conditions.

The European Commission argued that the new legislation would strengthen coordination between member states and ensure effective action to prevent gas supply disruptions

"This regulation is a major step forward to ensure that every household has gas even in the event of gas supply disruptions," said Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek described the adoption of the regulation as a step in the right direction, towards more solidarity in the field of energy supply. But he said there was still work to be done in order to fully ensure Europe's energy security.

"That is why the European Parliament will closely monitor the effectiveness of this new regulation and its effect on energy security and the energy supply situation in the European Union," he stressed.

Spanish centre-right MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras (European People's Party), who steered the legislation through Parliament, welcomed the outcome of months of negotiations.

"The Parliament has ensured that this regulation will not be used as a loophole for governments to distort the internal market using the excuse that there is a possible crisis. On the contrary, it will ensure that companies will be able to sell gas where it is needed by reducing the possibility for member states to take action that could adversely affect their neighbours by restricting the flow of gas within the EU," he said.

Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes expressed satisfaction that the "overdue" legislation had brought EU closer to addressing cyclical disruptions to gas supply. But he added that the EU lacks a coherent strategy on the role of gas in its energy policy.

"Gas will clearly play a part in the EU's transition to a renewables-based economy and the EU must be more strategic about how it deals with this. The landscape for gas is changing, whether due to new supply sources and resources (like shale gas) or to new measures affecting demand, such as EU legislation on buildings energy performance," Turmes said.

He urged the Commission to take stock of such developments and undertake a proper analysis of gas supply and the role of gas ahead of an EU summit dedicated to energy in February.

In response to the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis in January 2009, which caused unprecedented disruption of gas supplies to the EU via Ukraine, the European Commission in July 2010 proposed to revise existing legislation on security of gas supply.

The proposed regulation provided for a more coordinated response to supply crises, and features preventive action and reactions to concrete disruptions of supply, including common standards and infrastructure interconnections.

In June, a compromise agreement on the regulation was reached between the EU institutions.

The European Energy Programme for Recovery dedicated 1.4bn euros to co-financing cross-border gas infrastructure, including reverse flow projects in nine member states.

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