The UK could be vulnerable to gas shortages and price hikes following Brexit, an industry leader has cautioned.
Marco Alvera, head of the European industry body GasNaturally, has said the European Union could cut off gas exports to the UK during cold spells in winter to prioritise its own citizens.
EU countries could also theoretically impose tariffs on gas and electricity exports to a post-Brexit Britain, he said.
Britain imports nearly half the gas it consumes, most of it through pipelines from continental Europe. Gas is used not only to power boilers and cookers, but also generate nearly 40% of the UK’s electricity.
Alvera said the UK has become overly dependent on imported gas to meet these fuel needs, as its North Sea gas reserves have been depleted and much of its gas storage capacity closed.
And those needs will only escalate as climate change brings more extreme temperature in both the winter and summer, he warned.
"In the week when we had the 'Beast from the East' very cold spell coming, the system was already under a lot of strain, and the UK was taking a lot of gas from Europe that was stored in Europe,” he said.
Much of that imported gas came directly from Russia, Alvera said.
Britain’s reliance on imported Russian gas has been controversial, especially as tensions have mounted between the countries following the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury in March of last year.
Less than 1% of Britain’s gas comes directly from Russia, in the form of imported liquified natural gas. However, estimates suggest that more than a third of the gas piped through Europe to Britain originates in Russia.
Despite these concerns, energy security has been conspicuously absent in Brexit negotiations, Alvera cautioned.
"I would make [energy security] a high priority point in the discussions, and I haven't seen it be like that," he said.
In addition to leading GasNaturally, Alvera is also chief executive of the Italian gas pipeline company Snam, which owns a minority stake in one of the two main pipelines between Europe and the UK.
His warnings echo a 2017 report by the House of Lords, which found a post-Brexit Britain could be "more vulnerable to supply shortages in the event of extreme weather or unplanned generation outages.”
Britain would face these risks to its energy supply upon exit from the EU’s Internal Energy Market. Should Britain adopt the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU, this would be expected take place at the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.
Should Britain leave the EU without a deal in October, it would also leave the Internal Energy Market simultaneously.
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