Study: 16 percent of Europe’s gas flows through Ukraine

HOUSTON — Sixteen percent of the Europe’s gas flows through Ukraine, according to a new study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The figure is likely a harrowing one for observers of the prolonged dispute between Ukraine and neighboring Russia over semi-autonomous Crimea. There’s been growing concerns that Russia may flex its muscles in the dispute by slowing gas distribution to Europe or Ukraine, as it has in the past.

Last year, European Union countries — plus Turkey, Norway, Switzerland and the Balkan states — received 5.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from Russia, representing about 30 percent of their use.

About 3 trillion cubic feet of that gas flowed through Ukraine’s pipeline network. Ukraine hosts two major pipelines that connect Russian gas to Western Europe.

The figure is actually dramatically lower than it has been in the past. As much as 80 percent of the Russian natural gas that has flowed to Europe came through pipelines in Ukraine. Since a pipeline from Russia to Germany that runs under the Baltic Sea came online in 2011, generally, about 50 to 60 percent of Europe’s Russian gas has run through Ukraine.

The EIA relied on data assembled by Gazprom and the research firm Eastern Bloc Energy.

The figures are significant, given growing concerns about Russia’s ability to influence the politics of the region due to its critical role in powering Europe.

Indeed, a growing number of U.S. lawmakers, especially Republicans, have suggested that given Europe’s dependency on Russian gas, the federal government should do more to facilitate the export of liquefied natural gas to the continent. They theorize that if the U.S. — awash in cheap gas — sends some it to Europe, then Russia’s influence can be undermined.

But skeptics argue that even if the U.S. approved the two dozen LNG plants awaiting federal permits today, it would still take years for them to come online, given the billions of dollars in investment and years of construction they require.