EC Opens Romania Antitrust Gas Probe

The European Commission has opened a formal antitrust investigation into whether Romanian gas transmission operator Transgaz has hindered exports from the country to other EU member states. It will investigate whether Transgaz abused a dominant market position in breach of EU rules.

Romania is the third largest natural gas producer in the EU, after the Netherlands and UK, and has important gas reserves. Its importance looks set to increase if newly-discovered gas fields in the Black Sea start production in 2020 as scheduled. Transgaz is Romania’s state-owned gas grid operator.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the commission “needs to investigate whether Transgaz has been abusing its dominant position by isolating the Romanian gas market and preventing its integration into the European gas network.” She said the probe would examine whether Transgaz has devised a strategy to restrict gas exports from Romania to the rest of the EU, by use of interconnector transmission fees, under-investment or delays in building relevant pipes, and using unfounded technical arguments as a pretext to prevent or justify delays in exports.

“The Commission will now carry out its in-depth investigation as a matter of priority. An opening of a formal investigation does not prejudge its outcome,” the EC said. The formal probe's launch follows raids by EC inspectors in Romania in June 2016.

There was no immediate statement from Transgaz on its website.

Romania produced 10.3bn m³ in 2015 and consumed the same amount, according to latest BP statistics. Production was up year on year while consumption was down slightly, in parts owing to well-workovers by OMV subsidiary Petrom, the country's largest onshore gas producer.

Prospects are for Romanian gas output to grow further in the 2020s as OMV-Petrom partnered by ExxonMobil start up offshore production in their Neptun Deep block (1.5-3 trillion ft³ Domino discovery), while Carlyle is also working to develop the Midia gas field.

Transgaz is a partner in several new pipeline projects, including BRUA and Eastring, so the commission's action may be intended to put pressure on the state-owned company to operate in a fully non-discriminatory manner, particularly as more EU grants are made to infrastructure in the region in order to improve flows across borders.

 

Mark Smedley

 


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