The Nord Stream 1 pipeline has started annual maintenance, worrying Europe of a possible extended shut down due to the Ukraine conflict.

The potential extended shut down of Russian gas imports would keep European gas prices, which have already stung industry and households, higher for longer.
The potential extended shut down of Russian gas imports would keep European gas prices, which have already stung industry and households, higher for longer. (Reuters Archive)

The biggest single pipeline carrying Russian gas to Germany has started annual maintenance, with flows expected to stop for ten days, but governments, markets and companies are worried the shutdown might be extended due to the conflict in Ukraine.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline transports 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year of gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Maintenance started on Monday and lasts from July 11 to 21.

Last month, Russia cut flows to 40 percent of the pipeline's total capacity, citing the delayed return of equipment being serviced by Germany's Siemens Energy, in Canada.

Canada said over the weekend that it would return a repaired turbine, but it also said it would expand sanctions against Russia's energy sector.

Europe fears Russia may extend the scheduled maintenance to restrict European gas supply further, throwing plans to fill storage for winter into disarray and heightening a gas crisis that has prompted emergency measures from governments and painfully high bills for consumers.

German economy minister Robert Habeck has said the country should confront the possibility that Russia will suspend gas flows through Nord Stream 1 beyond the scheduled maintenance period.

"Based on the pattern we've seen, it would not be very surprising now if some small, technical detail is found and then they could say 'now we can't turn it on any more'," he said at an event at the end of June.

READ MORE: Germany raises gas alert as Russia cuts supply

Multi-billion economic blow

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed claims that Russia was using oil and gas to exert political pressure, saying the maintenance shutdown was a regular, scheduled event, and that no one was "inventing" any repairs.

There are other big pipelines from Russia to Europe but flows have been gradually declining, especially after Ukraine halted one gas transit route in May, blaming interference by occupying Russian forces.

Russia has cut off gas supplies completely to several European countries that did not comply with its demand for payment in roubles.

Germany has moved to stage two of a three-tier emergency gas plan, which is one step before the government rations fuel consumption.

It has also warned of recession if Russian gas flows are halted. The blow to the economy could be $195 billion (193 billion euros) in the second half of this year, data from the vbw industry association of the state of Bavaria showed last month.

"The abrupt end of Russian gas imports would also have a significant impact on the workforce in Germany...around 5.6 million jobs would be affected by the consequences," vwb's managing director Bertram Brossardt said.

The effects would be wider still. A complete halt would keep European gas prices, which have already stung industry and households, higher for longer.

READ MORE: Russia generates more oil and gas revenues than pre-Ukraine conflict days

Source: Reuters