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Nord Stream natural gas flows in 2018 reach almost 59 Bcm, well above capacity

Highlights

Gas supplies via 55 Bcm/year line more than maxed out

Possible to breach capacity in 'favorable' circumstances

Record flows despite two-week maintenance in July 2018

London β€” Natural gas flows via the Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany totaled 58.8 Bcm in 2018 -- 3.8 Bcm higher than its nameplate capacity of 55 Bcm/year -- according to the operator of the pipeline.

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Nord Stream started in 2011 -- designed as a bypass for the Ukrainian gas transportation route -- and has ramped up exports gradually until 2018, when the maximum capacity was passed.

"It is normal that gas pipeline technically can transport more than its designed capacity," a Gazprom Export spokesperson said Tuesday.

"So in some favorable circumstances it is possible to transport higher volumes," the spokesperson said, comparing it to LNG plants that can produce more than their capacity.

The figures provided by Gazprom are quoted in standard Russian Bcm, which are measured at a different pressure and temperature to gas volumes in Europe.

S&P Global Platts Analytics measured Nord Stream flows in 2018 at 55.5 Bcm after conversion from the published flow rate in KWh/h -- in line with a Russian gross calorific value of an estimated 38.1 MJ/cu m, below that of the standard European 40 MJ/cu m.

In a statement, Nord Stream said the 2018 total represented the highest utilization since the start of operations. They were boosted by the decision from July 2017 to allow Gazprom access to more capacity in the OPAL pipeline, which flows gas from Nord Stream onward into Europe.

The record high flows also came despite two weeks of maintenance in July last year when flows fell to zero.

Nord Stream has undergone two-week maintenance periods each year in recent years.

BASELOAD SUPPLY

The high flow rates via Nord Stream show the pipeline is being used by Gazprom as its baseload supply to Europe.

Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas link on track despite EU regulation risk

Russia's controversial Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream line projects are still on track to come online at the end of this year, despite risks of EU regulation and US sanctions. This podcast examines the projects' impact on European gas flows, prices and regulatory risks.

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The Yamal-Europe pipeline via Belarus has also been maxed out in recent years, leaving the route via Ukraine to take the swing of European gas demand.

Nord Stream has transported a total of 264.1 Bcm of gas since 2011 via the two-string pipeline network, it said.

"After the steady year-on-year increase of the pipelines' average utilization rate, Nord Stream reached the record annual volume of transported gas in 2018," it said.

Gazprom is currently building a second pipeline network along the same route, the 55 Bcm/year Nord Stream 2 project.

According to the latest information, more than 400km of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been laid.

--Stuart Elliott, stuart.elliott@spglobal.com

--Edited by James Leech, newsdesk@spglobal.com