by Dmitry Zhdannikov, Ron Bousso, Simon Lewis and Timothy Gardner
LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government has spoken to several international energy companies about contingency plans to supply Europe in natural gas in the event that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine were to disrupt Russian gas deliveries, Reuters learned on Friday from two American representatives and two industrial sources.
Washington fears that Moscow is preparing a new military offensive against Ukraine, after having annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. Russia says it has deployed troops to the Ukrainian border only for defensive purposes and denies any plans to invade its neighbour.
Around a third of Europe’s gas supply depends from Russia, deliveries that could be disrupted by the sanctions that the United States has threatened to take into account Russia if it were to attack Ukraine.
A possible disruption of deliveries of gas from Russia would exacerbate the energy crisis in Europe, where prices have soared for consumers and businesses.
Representatives from the US State Department have approached energy companies to see if additional deliveries would be possible if needed, two industry sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters. .
The companies responded that global gas reserves were limited and that there was an insufficient amount of gas available to compensate for the large volumes exported by Russia, the sources said.
According to a representative of the US State Department, speaking on condition of anonymity, Washington has not asked companies to increase their production.
“We have discussed a range of contingencies and everything we are doing with our partner states and our allies,” said this diplomatic source.
Discussions have been undertaken with the European Commission as well as with energy companies, she indicated. “It is true to say that we expressed our concerns to them and discussed contingency plans, but there was no request whatsoever regarding production”.
On does not know precisely the identity of the companies contacted by Washington.
Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Exxon declined requests for comment. Chevron Corp, Total, Equinor and Qatar Energy did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters.
A spokesman for the National Security Council in Washington declined to comment US discussions with energy companies, but confirmed that back-up plans were under consideration.
(with Jarrett Renshaw, Michelle Nichols and Gary McWilliams; French version Jean Terzian)