A cold snap next week could leave the country at the mercy of Russian gas suppliers, experts have warned.
Plunging temperatures on Sunday and Monday are likely to send demand for gas soaring across the UK and Europe to heat and light homes.
A report from the analysts S&P Platts warns that relying on Russia may be the only option for European nations if they suddenly need more as other suppliers are already running at or near capacity.
Gas reserves across the continent are at record lows after cold spells and the closure of British storage facilities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a rally in Sevastopol, Crimea
But the report said: ‘Gas demand is set to rise again from the end of the week across north-western Europe, bringing potential large-scale gas withdrawals back into play and prompting a likely increase in nominations for Russian gas imports.
‘Given the surge in demand, Russian gas supplies are considered the only swing source of gas under current conditions. Domestic production and other import sources are effectively maxed out.’
Campaigners fear the growing reliance on imports leaves the UK vulnerable at a time of heightened political tension with Russia in the wake of the row over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
Official figures suggest only a small proportion of Britain’s gas comes from Russia directly. But many major pipelines across Europe start in Russia. This allows state-backed giants such as Gazprom effective control of European gas supplies.
Gazprom claims it sold just over 16billion cubic metres of gas to the UK last year – around 20 per cent of the country’s total demand. Russia’s gas exports to Europe rose to a record 194billion cubic metres last year
The UK imports around 44 per cent of its gas from Europe and Norway. In turn, Europe imports around 35 per cent of its gas from Russia.
Experts say the UK would struggle to balance its own supplies if there were not enough available on the continent. And they warn that the only nation capable of increasing supplies in times of high demand is Russia.
Gazprom claims it sold just over 16billion cubic metres of gas to the UK last year – around 20 per cent of the country’s total demand. Russia’s gas exports to Europe rose to a record 194billion cubic metres last year.
Britain also bought a shipment of liquefied natural gas from Russia to cope with demand during the Beast from the East weather front at the end of February.
Tory MP Stephen Crabb said: ‘We know Russia deliberately uses its energy resources to create relationships of dependency across Europe and I don’t think we should be putting ourselves in that position. There are lots of options.’
The Prime Minister told the Commons yesterday Britain is looking to other countries to supply gas as it ramps up measures against Russia in response to the Skripal affair.
The UK has become far more reliant on imports in recent years due to the dwindling supply of gas from the North Sea and the closure last year of the Rough storage facility, which at its peak accounted for 70 per cent of the UK’s gas storage.
Mike Foster, of the industry body the Energy and Utilities Alliance, said: ‘If we have greater levels of imports there is always some vulnerability and the risk is greater from events.
‘This is one of those positions where there is an event and the situation could degenerate to the position where Russia does look to reduce the amount of gas it supplies to the West. It loses money if it does, but as a retaliatory measure, it’s conceivable.’
Tim Roache, of the GMB union, said: ‘There is a real danger here. We need a serious strategy and investment in UK energy to make sure we can stand on our own two feet.’
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: ‘Britain benefits from highly diverse and flexible sources of gas supply. We estimate less than 1 per cent of our gas comes from Russia and are in no way reliant on it.’