Snow-hit southern Europe could face energy shortages after authorities warned that Austrian pipelines were likely to be out of action for days following an explosion and fire that ripped through a main gas hub near Vienna.
Baumgarten, where the explosion occurred, is a key distribution and reception hub for gas exports and imports, including from Russia, Europe’s biggest gas supplier. In Italy, where rain, snow and extreme cold weather have disrupted traffic in the north-east over the last few days, the country’s industry minister declared a state of emergency due to a lack of gas supplies.
One person was killed and 18 injured in the blast on Tuesday. One of the casualties was airlifted to Vienna’s general hospital with serious injuries but was later confirmed to be in a non-critical condition.
A police spokesman said: “There was an explosion around 8.45am and a fire. A wide area has been sealed off and there are expected to be several injured.”
In Britain, Europe’s biggest gas market, gas for immediate delivery rose 35% to 92p per therm, its highest level for four years.
Austrian police said the explosion in Baumgarten, which is north-east of Vienna, had been caused by a technical problem. Fire services worked until the early afternoon to put out fires started by the blast. The chassis of several cars parked on the site were melted by the heat of the explosion.
Natural gas is transported to Baumgarten through Slovakia and Germany along several pipelines. Gas flows are then delivered throughout Europe via Austria’s transmission network.
The Vienna-based gas company estimated that it would take “days, not hours” to restore supply lines, according to Der Standard newspaper.
Carlo Calenda, the Italian industry minister, said the country must grapple with a serious energy supply problem and underlined the need to develop the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). The project is designed to give Italy a new supply route but has been delayed by protests.
“If we had had the TAP, we would not have to declare a state of emergency,” Calenda told Reuters.
The Italian wholesale day-ahead price surged 97% to a record high of €47 per megawatt hour. Gas prices elsewhere in Europe soared on concerns about supply.
Other countries directly affected include Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The Moscow-based gas supplier Gazprom PJSC said it was “working on redistribution of gas flows and does its best to secure uninterrupted gas supplies to the clients on this transport direction”.
The volume of gas passing westwards through Ukraine, the main transit country for Russian gas, was reduced by a third as a result of the blast.
Slovakia’s main gas transit route to Austria was suspended after the fire, the Slovakian pipeline operator Eustream said.
“As a result of the event in Austria … we adjusted the transit regime in our network to fully secure its safety and suspended transit to Baumgarten,” a spokesman said.