5 Min Read
* Gazprom says has resources to back LNG swap idea
* Operation requires support from Brussels
* Putin proposed raising EU exports by 60 mcm per day
(Adds EU comment, analyst estimate on additional gas demand)
By Jessica Bachman and Pete Harrison
MOSCOW/BRUSSELS, March 21 (Reuters) - Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) said on Monday it was ready to boost supplies to Europe under a proposal by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that involves rerouting liquefied gas from Europe to Japan.
Last weekend Putin proposed raising Russian gas exports to Europe by 60 million cubic metres per day to allow higher flows of liquefied natural gas to Japan, which is battling a nuclear power crisis after a March 11 earthquake. [ID:nLDE72I0LK]
Analysts questioned, however, whether more volumes were needed in Europe after Gazprom had already stepped in to cover the loss of 2 percent of Europe's supply caused by the conflict in Libya. [ID:nLDE71N13V]
"Gazprom has enough resources to accomplish Putin's proposal on a swap operation in Europe," a spokesman for Gazprom Export told Reuters.
"Gazprom increases gas deliveries through pipelines to Europe, so some LNG cargoes directed to Europe could go to Japan. If additional need of Japan will be confirmed, our representative will immediately contact our European partners."
Russia is the world's largest natural gas producer, but the lion's share of its exports is pumped by pipeline to the European Union and Turkey, to which it exported 139 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas last year.
It has a single operational LNG project, Sakhalin-2, which is located close to Japan but whose annual production of 10 million tonnes is already largely committed under long-term contracts.
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who has sweeping powers over the energy sector, has said Russia could ship an additional 200,000 tonnes of LNG to Japan in the form of energy aid.
Russia's proposal to ramp up pipeline exports would require the support of the European Union as well as a concrete need on the part of the Japanese, to be workable, Gazprom Export said.
The EU said the issue could be resolved on commercial terms.
"The Russian proposal on swaps of LNG gas for pipeline gas is first and foremost a matter for gas companies to decide on, in view of their existing gas supply and transportation contracts and existing legislation," European Commission Energy Spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said.
"So far, we are not aware of any requests for swaps of LNG gas made by Japan."
Gazprom meets around a quarter of Europe's gas needs, but its exports have been hit by the global recession and a glut of LNG from Qatar. It aims to claw back some of those losses this year by boosting exports by 15 percent to 152 bcm.
"There could be additional demand for gas in Europe due to the temporary shutdown of seven nuclear reactors in Germany and potentially other countries," said Renaissance Capital, estimating world LNG demand could rise by 10 million tonnes this year as a result of the Japanese plant's shutdown.
"However, there should be enough flexibility among the largest LNG suppliers to meet this additional demand in the medium term before spot prices rise too sharply."
Analysts also said Japan's nuclear crisis coincided with the end of Europe's winter heating season, when gas demand falls.
Japan's capacity to ramp up imports of LNG is limited, and analysts at Societe Generale estimate its incremental import needs at a relatively modest 5 bcm this year, rising to 10 bcm in 2012. [ID:nLDE72G1G8]]
"Japan has neither enough regasification capacity nor storage facilities. This should be taken into account," said Valery Nesterov, an energy analyst at Troika Dialog in Moscow.
Among major European buyers of Russian gas, Germany's E.ON (EONGn.DE) said its needs were well covered by supplies from Russia, Norway, the Netherlands and domestic German production.
"The additional volumes which Putin mentioned for Europe are meant to compensate for lost LNG volumes to Europe," said a spokesman at E.ON headquarters in Essen, Germany. "The Russian government will talk to the EU in this context."
Additional reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt and Vladimir Soldatkin and Melissa Akin in Moscow; Writing by Douglas Busvine, editing by Jane Baird