BERLIN — European Union and German regulators carried out unannounced inspections at several companies involved in the supply, transmission and storage of natural gas, on suspicion of violating E.U. competition regulations, the authorities said on Thursday.
None of the companies targeted in the raids, which took place on Tuesday, were identified, and both the European Commission, the executive arm of the bloc, and Germany’s antitrust regulator, the Bundeskartellamt, refused to comment further.
Reuters and German media reported that two companies subjected to the inspections were Gazprom Germania GmbH and Wingas GmbH, both subsidiaries of Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas supplier. Neither company responded to requests for comment.
The commission said that the surprise raids were part of “a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anticompetitive practices.” If sufficient evidence of wrongdoing is found, a formal investigation can proceed.
Earlier this month, the commission singled out Gazprom for possible violations of market regulations on competition.
“The Commission continues its investigation into the gas market in response to concerns about potential distortions of competition by operators, notably Gazprom,” it said in a March 8 statement that laid out its plans to diversify Europe’s sources of natural gas.
In 2018, the commission reached a settlement with Gazprom, after a long-running antitrust investigation into its dominance in regional gas markets across Europe. Unlike with other competition inquiries into companies like Google and Intel, the commission did not fine Gazprom, provoking criticism from officials in Poland who feared the deal did not go far enough to prevent similar behavior in the future.
Last year Russia provided about 45 percent of the European Union’s natural gas imports; in Germany, Russia’s share was even higher, amounting to 55 percent of imported natural gas.
In addition to Wingas and Gazprom Germania, Gazprom holds stakes in several other companies that own or operate natural gas storage facilities and thousands of miles of pipeline.
Europe’s largest underground tank for natural gas, in Rehden, Germany, is owned by Astora, another subsidiary of Gazprom. But the amount of gas that it holds on reserve has dropped to historic lows, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Last week, European Union leaders proposed requiring underground storage facilities to be at least 90 percent full by Oct. 1 of each year.
Gazprom is also involved in four long-distance pipelines, through joint ventures with the Germany-based Wintershall Dea, including Nord Stream AG, which owns the original pipeline carrying natural gas directly to Germany from Russia under the Baltic Sea. A second, parallel pipeline that the Russians had rushed to complete last year over vociferous objections from Washington, called the Nord Stream 2, was effectively frozen two days before Russia invaded Ukraine.