Romania is using less natural gas now than at any time in the past 10 years, and it is looking to expand domestic exports, reducing its reliance on gas supplied by Russian giant Gazprom, according to Interfax Energy. Romania cut its gas imports by 61 percent in 2014, according to preliminary data prepared by the Institutul National de Statistica and BP.
Romania’s cut in imports and consumption isn’t just because of a desire to lessen its reliance on natural gas; it also has to do with the adoption of regulations more favorable to domestic production and warmer weather, Ana Otilia Nutu of the Expert Forum in Bucharest told Interfax Energy. Romania sought to step up its own export business last year by opening a pipeline to neighboring Moldova in August. Moldova also relies entirely on Gazprom gas and the option to import from Romania was desirable to the Moldovan government because it could ease its vulnerability to Russian pressure over a pro-Russian separatist contingency in the self-declared autonomous state of Transistria.
Less reliance on Russian imports could help Romania avoid the economic consequences of the political battles between Russia and the West that bubbled up this year. Most of Europe’s countries get the majority of their gas from Gazprom, which has given Russia an upper hand in negotiations over the war in Ukraine.
Russia has threatened to cut off Ukraine’s gas supplies if Ukraine doesn’t pay for the supplies in advance, but the chief executive of Ukraine’s national energy firm Naftogaz said on Monday that Gazprom has been shorting Ukraine over the past two months. Gazprom officials said Ukraine would run out of gas by the end of last week if Naftogaz didn’t pay up, but the Ukrainians made a last-minute payment for a few days' worth of gas. The European Council invited Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers to Brussels on Monday to discuss a solution to the problem before supplies are cut and Ukrainians are left without badly needed heat and energy at the tail end of the winter.
Romania would be particularly vulnerable to a shutoff because it relies almost completely on Russian gas for imports, all of which comes through Ukraine. A shutoff would have a domino effect because 54 percent of Gazprom exports to the EU went through Ukraine in 2013 and entered the EU through Romania, Poland, Hungary or Slovakia. When Russia made cuts to its gas supplies to Ukraine in 2009, Romania lost 39 percent of its own supply, according to Romania Insider.
Read a detailed analysis here by the London School of Economics’ Jack Sharples and Andy Judge on the impact a suspension of Russian exports through Ukraine would have on each EU state.