ENERGY: How Austria has drastically reduced imports of Russian gas

Austria is no longer heavily dependent on Russian gas. How has this happened and how will it impact Austria’s gas supplies this winter? Here’s what you need to know.

ENERGY: How Austria has drastically reduced imports of Russian gas
Wholesale gas prices are falling but Austrian households are not seeing the benefits yet. (Photo by Kwon Junho / Unsplash)

Austria’s gas supply looks very different today compared to earlier this year when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Back in February, Austria sourced around 80 percent of all gas from Russia, with 10 percent coming from Norway, five percent from Germany and the remainder from other sources.

This put Austria in a delicate position as the EU began placing sanctions on Russia and experts voiced fears about Russia turning off the gas supply to Europe. This also took place at a time when Austria’s gas reserve tanks were only around 12 percent full.

READ MORE: Can British people in Austria claim the winter fuel payment from the UK?

However, as the first snowfall now covers more parts of the country, E-Control (the government regulator for electricity and gas markets) has confirmed that Austria reduced imports of Russian gas to 21 percent in September. 

The country’s gas tanks are also well stocked at just over 95 percent following a mild autumn. Although around a third of the gas belongs to neighbouring countries.

So how did this happen and where is Austria getting gas from now? The Local took a closer look to find out.

How did Austria reduce imports of Russian gas?

The biggest change to how Austria sources natural gas was by booking line capacity on pipelines that flow from Germany and Italy, reported Die Presse.

The gas now flowing to Austria is mostly coming from Norway or is liquefied natural gas (LNG).

At a recent press conference in Vienna, Johannes Schmidt from the Institute for Sustainable Economic Development, said: “Actually, it’s incredible what Europe and Austria in particular have achieved here over the summer.”

Austria’s partially state-owned OMV has also booked 40 terawatt hours (TWh) of gas transport capacity from Norway and non-Russian LNG suppliers for the period from October 2022 to September 2023. This gas is delivered to a tank in Oberkappel, Upper Austria, via Germany.

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Additionally, Austria has confirmed LNG shipments from Dubai, which further helps to boost the country’s energy security.

Picture taken on May 3, 2022 shows a general view of the largest Austrian refinery OMV at Schwechat near Vienna, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

A statement released from the Federal Chancellery said: “The United Arab Emirates are a strategic partner of Austria and will make a contribution to the security of supply with LNG deliveries next winter, as agreed between OMV and the Emirati ADNOC.

“Furthermore, the Austrian and Emirati governments will intensify cooperation on energy issues and climate protection.”

However, purchasing gas from new sources hasn’t been the only tactic to reduce Austria’s dependency on Russian gas.

In July, Austria and Germany finalised a solidarity agreement to secure gas flows between the two countries in the event of an energy crisis. And in September, the Austrian Federal Government launched the “Mission 11” campaign to encourage consumers to save energy. 

Finally, there are long-term plans to expand renewable energy infrastructure across Austria to reduce the overall dependency on natural gas. But the results of this part of the plan will not be seen until the coming years.

READ MORE: How expensive are gas and electricity in Austria right now?

Is Austria’s gas supply now secure?

Experts are positive about Austria’s ability to get through the coming winter without running out of gas.

However, they are now concerned about winter 2023/2024 with plans already being hashed out about how to secure gas supplies next spring and summer to fill up the tanks again.

The procurement of gas has also come at a big cost to Austria with the government spending €3.95 billion alone on securing the recently implemented strategic gas reserve of 20 percent of overall consumption, reports ORF.

And with energy prices set to skyrocket again for the next storage season, it’s likely the Austrian government will have to dig deep into the financial reserves once more in the spring.

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Two years of war: Ukrainian refugees face lasting exile in Austria

Iryna, Maryna, Katya -- three generations from one family -- fled their home in southern Ukraine for Austria just after the war started, hoping to return quickly.

Two years of war: Ukrainian refugees face lasting exile in Austria

But two years later, these hopes are fading.

Just a few days ago, a fresh attack blew off the roofs of many buildings intheir home city of Mykolaiv. “Ukraine’s future is not clear. I think that the war will not stop, even in one or two years,” said Maryna Troshchenko, 43, while showing photos of the damage sent by relatives still living in the port city.

Troshchenko, her mother and her daughter, who all now live in Vienna, are among six million Ukrainian refugees, marking the biggest exodus since World War II, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Germany and Poland host the largest populations, with about one million Ukrainian refugees in each country.

Incessant bombings and a lack of progress on the front make their return in the short term increasingly improbable.

‘Started from scratch’

After months of housing problems and rejected CVs, Troshchenko finally landed a job in a supermarket, enabling the trio to move into their own apartment this year.

“I started from scratch” at the bakery department before being promoted to head cashier, said the former purchasing director, who did not speak a word of German when she arrived. “We are happy to have been able to accomplish so much in two years,” the divorcee added.

Her daughter, Katya, 17, has managed to obtain her Ukrainian school graduation certificate while attending a Viennese high school, from where she is eyeing to graduate next year.

Mother Maryna Troshchenko (L) from southern Ukraine with her daughter Katya Troshchenko (R) and grandmother Iryna Simonova pose for photos in their apartment in Vienna, Austria on February 8, 2024. (Photo by Alex HALADA / AFP)

Katya’s grandmother, Iryna Simonova, 64, meanwhile, has been able to find a volleyball team to practice her favourite sport and has made friends. But tears stream from her eyes as soon as she thinks of her home country as she recalls leaving behind her mother, who at 87 refused to join them.

‘Build a future’

At refugee help organisation Diakonie in Austria, workers note that many Ukrainian refugees have decided to try to settle after being paralysed by the “dilemma of waiting” to return home.

“For a long time, it was very difficult for them to decide how to proceed further,” Sarah Brandstetter, deputy at Diakonie’s Ukrainian refugee advice centre, told AFP.

“Two years later, the situation has changed — people are now planning to stay in the country. They have their children here in schools. They want to build a future for themselves,” she added.

But especially mothers of young children who find themselves alone to take care of them continue to struggle.

The initial surge of solidarity is also running out of steam in some places.

In Austria — which hosts some 80,000 Ukrainian refugees — “the increase of energy costs and high inflation was a game changer”, according to Christoph Riedl, a migration and integration expert at Diakonie.

In neighbouring Germany, anti-migration discourse is also on the rise amid a spike in the number of asylum-seekers from outside of Europe, weighing heavily on reception capacities.

Demographic challenge

Until March 2025, under EU rules, Ukrainians are eligible for temporary protection, a status allowing them access to the labour market, housing, and social and medical assistance. But what is next, experts wonder. Riedl said the EU should agree now on a
lasting status.

“When a conflict lasts for two or three years, people change their minds. It’s a reality check. They integrate, they have a new life,” he told AFP.

Faced with a real demographic challenge, Ukrainian authorities fear the massive exodus — and in contrast to other nations want refugees to be able to return.

A photo taken in Vienna, Austria on February 8, 2024 shows a sign at the entrance to the Ukrainian refugee advice centre of the Diakonie help organisation. Workers note that many Ukrainian refugees have decided to try to settle after being paralysed by the “dilemma of waiting” to return home. (Photo by Alex HALADA / AFP)

“We find a somewhat specific situation in Ukraine — a country at war, which also wants to maintain the greatest possible connection with its population,” Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Director for Europe, told AFP.

Katya Troshchenko too insists on the importance “for young Ukrainians to come back to rebuild Ukraine, to build a new, modern country, which will be in EU too”.

However — still traumatised by the nights in air raid shelters at the start of the war — she is “afraid” to return.   

“I don’t want to see how it’s absolutely ruined by Russians, and I don’t want to see my ruined childhood,” she said. And she has no illusions — she will probably have to stay in Vienna for her university studies.