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Europe's natural gas market continuing to grow and diversify

An employee of GASCADE Gastransport GmbH walks among sections of steel pipe stacked ahead of construction of the Eugal natural gas pipeline
An employee of GASCADE Gastransport GmbH walks among steel pipe stacks ahead of the Eugal natural gas pipeline construction, near Golssen, Germany, on August 29, 2018. Photo: Sean Gallup via Getty Images

Since 2015, Europe's natural gas market has shown strong demand growth driven by economic recovery, an increasingly gas-reliant power sector and unseasonable weather patterns that have increased the continent's heating and cooling needs.

The big picture Recent trends suggest the market is not only growing but also diversifying its suppliers, routes and delivery forms. There's considerable push for further liberalization to provide greater transparency and market-based pricing, features that attract competition and increase exporter interest. The growth thus provides a way to both decarbonize Europe's economy and fortify its energy security.

Several developments from just the beginning of September underscore this trend:

  1. Liquefied nature gas (LNG) markets and infrastructure are expanding. The French LNG Terminal Montoir has received record-level shipments; the Polish LNG Terminal just celebrated its 40th cargo delivery ; and the prospects of a new LNG terminal opening toward the end of 2022 in northern Germany seem better than ever.
  2. Pipeline gas is not giving way. Russian company Gazprom is proceeding to lay a controversial pipeline in Finland’s part of the Baltic Sea, and another of its pipelines is roughly 80% ready to begin funneling gas to Turkey. Meanwhile, Poland is pushing for the Baltic Pipe from Norway, where general interest in drilling is surging and where Poland's PGNiG is planning to undertake exploratory offshore drilling.
  3. Turkey continues to position itself as a natural gas hub for Europe. Besides its strong support for new LNG and pipeline infrastructure, including Gazprom's, Turkey remains committed to gas market liberalization in the hopes of attracting more trade activity by launching spot day-ahead pricing.

The bottom line: The combination of growth and diversification is good news for both the new market players, such as the U.S. and Qatari LNG exporters, and for Russia, which has been wary of changing natural gas market dynamics and its loosening hold as Europe's dominant natural gas provider. European importers, which stand to benefit from an increasingly competitive environment, should also welcome the news.

Anna Mikulska is a nonresident fellow in energy studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute's Center for Energy Studies and a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.

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