Authorities carry out surprise raids on gas companies in Germany

BERLIN — European Union and German regulators have carried out unannounced inspections of several companies involved in the supply, transportation and storage of natural gas suspected of breaching EU competition rules, officials said Thursday. authorities.

None of the companies targeted in the raids, which took place on Tuesday, have been identified, and the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, and Germany’s antitrust regulator, the Bundeskartellamt, declined to comment further.

Reuters and German media reported that two companies subject to the inspections were Gazprom Germania GmbH and Wingas GmbH, both subsidiaries of Gazprom, the Russian state gas supplier. Neither company responded to requests for comment.

The commission said the surprise raids were part “of a preliminary investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices”. If sufficient evidence of wrongdoing is found, a formal investigation may be initiated.

Earlier this month, the commission singled out Gazprom for possible breaches of market regulations on competition.

“The Commission is pursuing its gas market investigation in response to concerns about potential distortions of competition by operators, notably Gazprom,” it said in a March 8 statement outlining its plans to diversify European sources of natural gas.

In 2018, the commission reached a settlement with Gazprom, after a lengthy antitrust investigation into its dominance in regional gas markets across Europe. Unlike other competition probes into companies like Google and Intel, the commission did not fine Gazprom, prompting criticism from Polish officials who feared the deal did not go far enough to prevent similar behavior in the future.

Last year, Russia supplied around 45% of the European Union’s natural gas imports; in Germany, Russia’s share was even higher, amounting to 55% of imported natural gas.

Besides Wingas and Gazprom Germania, Gazprom has stakes in several other companies that own or operate natural gas storage facilities and thousands of kilometers of pipelines.

Europe’s largest underground natural gas reservoir, in Rehden, Germany, belongs to Astora, another Gazprom subsidiary. But the amount of gas it holds in reserve has fallen to historic lows, even before Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Last week, European Union leaders proposed requiring underground storage facilities to be at least 90% full by the 1st of every year.

Gazprom is also involved in four long-distance gas pipelines, through joint ventures with German company Wintershall Dea, including Nord Stream AG, which owns the original pipeline transporting natural gas directly to Germany from Russia under the Baltic Sea. . A second parallel pipeline that the Russians rushed to complete last year over strong objections from Washington, called Nord Stream 2, was effectively frozen two days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

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