How reliant is Britain on Russian gas?

Gas prices have soared by 70% in less than two weeks as Vladimir Putin threatens supply

Gas pipeline
(Image credit: Dmitry Feoktistov\TASS via Getty Images)

Gas prices have soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ramping up fears that Vladimir Putin could put a stop to European imports of the fossil fuel.

And while Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls for support from the EU to defend his country, “the uncomfortable truth” is that Europe’s dependency on Russian gas imports has “fundamentally shaped the response of western nations to the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” said The Times’ energy editor Emily Gosden.

The European Union gets around 40% of its gas from Russia. By comparison, the UK “imports barely any gas from Russia”, said The Guardian’s energy correspondent, Jillian Ambrose. Almost half of the gas piped into the UK comes from the North Sea, and a third from Norway, while Russian imports make up less than 5%.

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But “the UK is not protected from rising prices purely because it relies less on Russian gas”, said the i news site. Gas could become “eye-wateringly expensive if markets in Europe soar”, said Ambrose back in January.

And markets have soared – by around 70% since 21 February 2022. Gas prices are now “more than four times what they were a year ago”, said the Financial Times (FT).

Pipelines through Ukraine funnel Russia’s gas into mainland Europe. And while war rages on, “it’s mind-boggling” that “one is sending its gas to customers through the other”, Tom Marzec-Manser, head of gas analytics at price reporting agency Icis, told The Times.

Could Russia cease Europe’s supply?

A “shutdown” of Russian piped gas used to be “unthinkable”, said The Economist. But that is “no longer” the case.

“Even at the height of the cold war” gas continued to be piped into Europe, but “unlike his Soviet predecessors”, Putin “can afford the cost of a brief energy shock”.

“Mere sabre-rattling over Ukraine has already sent prices soaring for gas and oil,” the paper continued. If Putin did cut off gas to Europe “some immediate disruption would be inevitable”, but Europe’s energy system “is more resilient” than it was during the previous gas crisis in 2009.

Ultimately, “the price will be paid from the wallet rather than through physical suffering”.

Whether Putin turns Europe’s gas tap off or not, the UK market is already seeing gas prices rise. Boris Johnson has said that “any suffering” Brits experienced from rising energy bills “would be minimal compared to what the people of Ukraine were going through”, the FT reported.

The invasion has resulted in a “frantic reappraisal” of European and UK energy supplies, said The Guardian’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted that the UK should “move away from gas” in favour of renewables and “new nuclear”.

Improving household energy efficiency, he said, would also be key. The UK’s Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit estimates that improving home insulation and heating efficiency could “bump up” UK households’ average energy performance and cut gas usage by as much as 20%, reported Sky News.

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