Deadly explosion at major European gas hub in Austria


This picture taken on December 12, 2017 shows Austria’s main gas pipeline hub at Baumgarten, Eastern Vienna, where an explosion rocked the site. The Kronen-Zeitung daily reported on its website that 60 people were hurt and that several fire brigades from the surrounding area were called.Tomas HULIK / AFP

A large explosion rocked one of Europe’s main gas pipeline hubs on Tuesday, leaving one person dead and stoking concerns about the continent’s winter supplies.

Photos and videos on social media showed a huge tower of orange flames visible for miles around roaring out of the Baumgarten facility in eastern Austria.

Police said that the blast at around 8:45 am (0745 GMT) killed one person and injured 21, one seriously.

“I heard a huge explosion and thought at first it was a plane crash,” photographer Tomas Hulik, a resident of a village just over the border in Slovakia, told AFP. “Then I saw an immense ball of flame.”

Austrian police said the incident at the facility, which handles about a tenth of Europe’s gas supply, was caused by a “technical” fault and that local authorities had begun an investigation.

The Kurier daily said it happened a day after a new gas tank was installed at the site. The 32-year-old man who died was due to ensure it was operating normally.

More than 200 firefighters took several hours to extinguish the blaze. The heat was so extreme that cars parked at the site partially melted.

Baumgarten is Austria’s largest reception gas hub where a number of pipelines bringing gas from Russia, Norway and elsewhere converge.

It receives some 40 billion cubic metres of gas annually and redistributes it onwards to other countries in Europe including to Germany and northern Italy.

Armin Teichert, a spokesman for the site’s operator Gas Connect Austria, said that the facility had been evacuated and placed in “security mode”.

The material damage is “major,” Teichert told AFP.

Italian emergency
The company added later, however, that deliveries to Germany, Italy and Hungary would resume before midnight (2300 GMT).

Earlier, Italy’s government declared a state of emergency for its gas sector and said it would tap its reserves to ensure that customers were not affected.

Russian gas giant Gazprom said it was “working on redistribution of gas flows and (doing) its best to secure uninterrupted gas supplies to the clients”.

The Baumgarten facility is one of the main entry points for Russian gas into Europe.

A spokesman for Austrian gas firm OMV, which part-owns Gas Connect, told Bloomberg that getting Baumgarten back to normal “isn’t a question of hours, but days”.

The incident further spooked European energy markets a day after one of Britain’s most important North Sea oil pipelines was closed because of a crack.

Supply from Norway’s largest off-shore gasfield was also cut after a power cut that also affected other sites in Norway, Britain’s largest supplier, Bloomberg said.

A cold snap in Britain and across Europe has also pushed up demand for gas and heating oil in recent days.

Natural gas and power prices jumped in Europe, particularly in Britain, and Brent crude oil futures rose above $65 a barrel for the first time since June 2015.