No Holiday for Station That Shut Off Gas

For some Gazprom employees, it was another New Year's holiday spoiled by a gas dispute with Ukraine.

The Kursk Gas Mains Management Center, the Gazprom affiliate responsible for pumping gas to Ukraine and then on to European customers, had a normal working day on Jan. 1 after receiving orders to halt deliveries a day earlier.

"I just drank some champagne and went to bed," Alexander Glazritsky, chief executive of the Kursk Gas Mains Management Center, said by telephone Sunday.

The gas compressor station Surdzha, located 8 kilometers from the Russian-Ukrainian border in the Kursk region, pumps gas through two mains to Ukraine for its domestic use and through three other mains to Europe. The three mains go through Ukraine, too.  

"At 10 in the morning on Jan. 1, we tightened the valves of the two pipes going to Ukraine for its domestic use through the Surdzha station," Glazritsky said.

That day, Glazritsky also received a group of specialists from SGS, an international inspection and verification company, and through Jan. 7, when supplies were suspended to Europe, they measured how much gas was being pumped via the three export pipes. SGS also measured gas flows on the Ukrainian-Slovakian border, where Russian gas enters Europe.

"The figures did not coincide, and we noticed that as early as Jan. 1," Glazritsky said. "Ukraine used bridges between the export and its domestic pipes to siphon off gas."

Ukraine denies wrongdoing.

Glazritsky said the pipes were shut on Jan. 7.

"At 5:40 p.m. on Jan. 7, we tightened our Europe-bound mains," Glazritsky said. "On ordinary days, it's very noisy at the Surdzha station, but now it's all quiet there."

The gas is now stuck in the pipes in the border area, heightening the risk of gas condensate freezing in the mains and nitrate obstructions that would make it impossible to pump the gas later.

"We can keep the gas there indefinitely, but it's dangerous, so it had better flow," Glazritsky said.