Austria throws support behind embargo of Russian oil

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler told reporters that the country is prepared to support a European Commission decision on further sanctions, including an embargo of Russian oil.

Austria throws support behind embargo of Russian oil
Austria's Green Minister of Climate and Environment Leonore Gewessler answers journalists' questions during an Environment ministers council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on December 20, 2021. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

Austrian Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) said Austria does not oppose an oil embargo against Russia and is prepared to support the measure along with other European countries.

“Austria is ready to consistently support an oil embargo if the European Commission and the member states decide to do so”, the minister told reporters ahead of a special EU meeting of energy ministers in Brussels this Monday.

However, she added that an essential requirement for such a measure is that European countries be able to be united in the embargo. Austria has already stopped processing Russian oil in March, she mentioned. 

The meeting between EU energy representatives is meant to discuss the bloc’s energy supply considering Russia had temporarily halted deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria. The ministers are also expected to talk about the EU’s plans for a possible oil embargo against the Kremlin. 

READ ALSO: What does Russia’s decision to cut gas to Poland mean for Austria?

Germany on board

After weeks of hesitance and attempts to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, Germany has said it would support an oil embargo against Moscow, The Local Germany reported. 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the country was now prepared to manage without Russian oil for several years after reaching new supply contracts in the past few months. 

The country’s Economic Affairs and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck also said that Germany would support an oil embargo but that other EU members were “not yet ready”. 

Oil vs Gas

While Austria might be prepared to do away with Russian oil when it comes to gas, the story is quite different. 

READ ALSO: Is Austria set for a gas price hike – and what can you do to avoid it?

The country sources around 80 per cent of natural gas from Russia, and experts believe Austria could only get rid of this dependency by 2027 if it manages to reduce its gas consumption by 25 per cent and expand biogas and green hydrogen domestic production.

In April, Austria announced a €5 billion investment towards storage and natural gas stockpiling, looking for contingency plans for next winter. This is in addition to €1.6 billion that had already been earmarked for Austria’s reserve gas supply.

Still, the country’s gas storage tanks, which should be 80 per cent full by the start of next autumn to last through winter, are now only at 18 per cent. Austria might be ready for an oil embargo, but it is still looking to diversify its sources of natural gas.

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REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?