If Russian gas stops flowing, measures to replace supply won’t be enough. The European Union will need to curb demand implying difficult and costly decisions.

Russia has historically been the European Union’s largest supplier of natural gas. After 2006 and 2009 Russia-Ukraine-Europe gas disputes, followed by tensions in the wake of the 2013-2014 Ukranian crisis, the EU has sought to reduce its dependency on Russian natural gas imports. However, Russia continues to supply around 40% of the EU gas consumption.

As the conflict continues in Ukraine, European gas prices had soared and there is likelihood that Moscow could shed off supplies of gas, widely considered part of Putin’s leverage against the West in the obsession with Ukrain.

In 2021, Russian natural gas exports to the EU amounted to 1,550 TWh via pipeline and around 120 TWh via LNG. This implies that around 1,700 TWh would have to be replaced should Russia stop its natural gas exports to Europe completely.

Before that, European countries will be pulling the stops to find contingency supply network in the coming weeks. In fact, sources say the United States is already in talks with Qatar over supplying gas to the EU as a crucial substitute for Russia.

During a forum of gas exporting countries held last week in Qatar, the bloc said it would be unable to provide a considerable amount of replacement gas to Europe in the event of sanctions against Russia. They stressed the need for significant investment in the gas infrastructure as well as long-term contracts, to guarantee a large supply to Europe.

This has led to an emerging debate about whether African countries, which have some of the world’s deepest gas reserves, can step in to fill the gap – a demand of 150-290 billion cubic metres annually that Russia has usually supplied to Europe.

Recently, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan said the Russian invasion of Ukraine could prove to be an opportunity for gas sales as the East African country makes efforts to secure a new energy market outside Africa.

“whether africa or europe or americA, WE ARE LOOKING FOR MARKETS,” SAID HASSAN

Tanzania, which has the sixth-largest gas reserves in Africa – an estimated 57 trillion cubic feet (1.6 billion cubic metres) of gas reserves – says it has been working with Shell to utilise its vast offshore gas resources and export to Europe and elsewhere.

Africa’s largest gas producer has similar plans too. Timipre Sylva, Nigeria’s junior petroleum minister, told the press at the gas exporting countries’ forum in Doha, ” We want to build a pipeline, that is going to take our gas to Algeria, then to Europe.”

Nigeria’s comments are buoyed by the recent signing of an MoU with Algeria and Niger Republic and the ongoing construction of the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline, a 614km (381.5 miles) in northern Nigeria.

But there are concerns about whether African countries can become a proper stopgas solution for natural gas as Europe tackles Russia’s military onslaught against one of it’s own – or long-term suppliers.

Lack of infrasructure

Experts say a historic lack of investment in gas infrastructure has hampered the energy industry in sub-Saharan, unlike in Northern Africa.

For instance, the Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline in Algeria – Africa’s largest natural gas exporter – conveys natural gas through Morocco to Spain and Portugal, and the Medgaz pipeline links Algeria directly to Spain.

Experts estimated that Algeria exported 9 billion cubic feet (255 million cubic metres) of gas to Spain in 2020 and up to 17 billion cubic feet (481 million cubic metres) annually before that. The drop was due to gas production dipping in a breakdown in relations with Morocco; last October, Algeria announced that it would immediately begin exporting gas directly to Spain.

But many African countries with massive gas reserves have also struggled to attract investment to build gas infrastructure projects to supply the European market.

Angola, which has 13.5 trillion cubic feet (382 billion cubic metres) of proven gas reserves, has experienced a sharp decline in oil and gas production in the last five years due to a combination of technical and operational problems, as well as a lack of upstream investment and incentives.

Still, like in many other African countries, significant investments are needed to build trans-regional and intercontinental pipelines, in order to open up access to Europe. And they all need loads of capital.

“The key factor that remains a challenge for Africa as a reliable LNG producer and exporter revolves around security of supply,” said Mabhena-Olagunju. “Whilst the LNG discoveries in Mozambique are a great find, it is also important to recognise that insecurity leads to delays and instability of supply.”

Can African countries improvise?