Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Year 2000 Bug Could Halt Gazprom Exports

WASHINGTON -- Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union states could be hit with "severe shortages" of energy if Russia's natural gas pipeline stops working because of the year 2000 bug, a CIA analyst said.

Despite its heavy dependence on the Gazprom pipeline network owned by Russia, the regions could survive a Gazprom shutdown for about 30 days with existing inventories, the analyst said.

Gazprom, whose assets include a quarter of the world's natural gas, supplies about half the energy used by Russia, plus 15 percent of energy consumed by Eastern Europe and 5 percent by Western Europe. The natural gas monopoly also is Russia's largest company.

"The storage capacity and drawdown capability of Eastern Europe and other states of the former Soviet Union suggests that those countries could experience severe shortages should Gazprom shut down," said Lawrence Gershwin, an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Gershwin testified on Friday before the U.S. Senate special committee on the year 2000 technology problem.

The so-called Y2K problem refers to many computers designed so that they cannot recognize a date after Dec. 31, 1999. Until recent years, programmers truncated years to two digits to save space, which means that when the year changes to 2000, it may crash or generate wrong data.

Almost all U.S. industries have been upgrading and testing equipment for the beginning of 2000, while less wealthy countries have lagged in their preparations.

Gazprom officials could operate equipment manually, use stored gas or switch to backup-pipe segments if the pipeline shut down or exploded. But, Gershwin added, "It is unclear whether these measures are sufficient to deal with the scale of problems that could occur due to Y2K failures."

U.S. intelligence officials have identified several potential problems with Gazprom's equipment, including:

Aging mainframe computers roughly equivalent to the IBM 360 and 360 series that are "highly likely" to stop working on Jan. 1.

Supervisory control and data acquisition systems, most of which were purchased years ago and not Y2K-ready.

Satellite ground stations used to transfer data from production regions to Gazprom headquarters.

Hundreds of unattended equipment stations in remote areas of Siberia that rely on embedded processors. Some of the stations, which control pipeline valves, are accessible only by helicopter.