Ukraine might not be able to secure its gas supplies through reverse flow from Europe as Gazprom’s contracts prohibit its clients from reversing flow in the pipelines.
Although a technical solution to send gas European countries have purchased from Russia back to Ukraine might be available within months, Ukraine might not be able to secure its gas needs by re-purchasing Russian gas from its EU neighbours as Gazprom considers such an action illegal.
A spokesman of Eustream, a pipeline operator of Slovakia which is in the most suitable position to help Ukraine out, confirmed reversing flow in any of the four pipelines transporting Russian gas to Slovakia from Ukraine would be a direct breach of contract.
"For a reverse flow, you would have to stop the East-West flow in one of the (four) pipelines and reverse the flow. But you would have to have approval from Gazprom," the spokesman said.
"Gazprom does not agree with this (reverse flows), and thus it's not an option," he added.
Although reversing flow is legal in the EU, it would be impossible to conceal such an action from Gazprom as Slovakia would have to build a metering station before starting the operation.
An industry source earlier told Reuters that the cost of building the metering station in Slovakia and making some minor technical adjustments was about €20m (£16.5m) and would take nine months to complete.
As the pipeline connecting Russia with Europe was designed to transport gas only in the East-West direction, further technical modifications would be needed. Slovakia has already built a compressor station to push gas in the opposite direction from that originally designed. In some cases, a pressure reduction station needs to be installed at the other end in order to draw gas back.
Europe's typical pipeline pressure is around 80 bar, and in order to reverse flows, the pressure at one end is raised to over 120 bar, creating a pressure gradient as an operator will decrease the pressure at the other end.
A filter facility would have to be built on the originally receiving side to filter gas before sending it back.
Slovakia said it was considering the option of pumping around 10 billion cubic metres of gas per year to Ukraine, covering about 18 per cent of Ukrainian demand. Russian gas currently covers about 40 per cent of Ukraine’s needs.
Eustream said it was working with Ukrainian pipeline operator Ukrtransgas to ensure that reverse flows could start by the winter, when demand for gas peaks.
In the EU, reverse flow between member states has been common for more than a decade and the European gas transmission network is now closely integrated.
Gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine led to Gazprom cutting off supplies in 2006 and 2009.
Officials from Norway and the Netherlands, other large gas suppliers, have already said they would be unable to supply Ukraine and other European countries with substantial amounts of gas in the event of a Russian supply cut.