The German energy regulator said Sept. 13 that the application by Nord Stream 2 AG -- the operator of the now-complete pipeline from Russia to Germany -- for approval as an independent transmission system operator is now complete.
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However, the Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA) said it has up to four months from Sept. 8 to produce a draft decision on the application.
Construction work on Nord Stream 2 was fully completed on Sept. 10, but the operator needs to be certified as a network operator before commercial flows can begin.
Nord Stream 2 AG applied in late June for the certification with the BNetzA, which has been reviewing the application since then to make sure it was complete.
"Nord Stream 2 AG has applied for certification as an independent transmission operator under sections 10 to 10e of the Energy Industry Act and has now submitted all necessary documents," BNetzA said on its website in a Sept. 13 update.
"The time period started on Sept. 8. The Bundesnetzagentur has four months from this date to produce a draft decision and transmit it to the European Commission," it said.
The timetable for beginning commercial flows via the 55 Bcm/year capacity Nord Stream 2 is a key factor currently affecting the European gas market, with benchmark prices having broken through the Eur58/MWh mark on continued supply concerns.
Russia's Gazprom said last month that it could flow 5.6 Bcm of gas via Nord Stream 2 in 2021.
Once BNetzA publishes its draft decision, it then passes to the European Commission to give its opinion before being returned to the German regulator for a final decision, a process that could also take up to four months.
"NS2 [needed] to submit a request for certification to the German regulator before it [could] start its operations," a spokesperson for the European Commission told S&P Global Platts.
"The Bundesnetzagentur would then be required to submit to the Commission its draft certification decision, requesting the Commission's opinion as prescribed by the amended Gas Directive," the spokesperson said.
"When the Commission receives that submission, it has two months to react, extendable by another two months under certain conditions. BNetzA would have to take utmost account of the Commission opinion," they added.
Gazprom has reportedly been planning to launch first flows at the start of October, but it seems probable that it would be unable to do so without approval from BNetzA.
Should the pipeline begin operations while the case is pending, the operator could be subject to penalties, a BNetzA spokesperson said.
The pipeline must also be technically certified as complete, a task made more difficult by the withdrawal from the project of certification company DNV due to the threat of US sanctions.
Wholesale European gas markets responded wildly to the news, recording one of the biggest upward opening moves ever seen, and building upon already record-high prices for winter-season delivery.
By 0750 GMT, the British NBP front-winter contract was changing hands at 155 pence/therm, an increase of 6.50 p/th from its Platts Market on Close assessment on Sept. 10.
Its Dutch TTF equivalent rose to Eur59.925/MWh by the same time, up Eur2.05/MWh compared to the Sept. 10 close.
Spot prices also received considerable support, with the Platts intraday assessment for the NBP within-day contract climbing 10 p/th on the day to 150.50 p/th, while the day-ahead product rose 11.30 p/th to 150.55 p/th.
News of Nord Stream 2's physical completion on Sept. 10 pressured the following two seasons, Summer 2022 and Winter 2022, reflecting market interpretation of this statement. This sentiment has been carried over into Sept. 13, with these contracts only posting modest gains in the early exchanges relative to the front season.
This appears to demonstrate a market consensus that the Russian dual-pipeline system will not have a meaningful impact this winter.