Italy clears new rules to boost gas storage amid Russia threat

MILAN, April 27 (Reuters) - Italy has introduced new rules to help fill its gas storage system ahead of winter to cushion possible disruptions to Russian supplies as the conflict in Ukraine escalates.

Energy regulator Arera said in a statement it had approved a contract-for-difference mechanism offering shippers protection on the price of the gas they buy to inject into storage.

Italy, which sources 40% of its gas imports from Russia, is looking to fill 90% of gas storage space before the winter to help cope with less Russian gas.

But high commodity prices exacerbated by the war in Ukraine have discouraged shippers buying gas now when they could make a loss if prices drop when they sell further down the line.

Earlier this month Arera introduced a series of incentives to encourage shippers to fill storage, including offering 5 euros per megawatt hour on gas destined for reserves.

The watchdog, which regulates Italy's 13 storage sites holding around 14 billion cubic metres of gas, said late on Wednesday shippers would be able to opt for either the new contract for difference mechanism or the storage premium.

As the war in Ukraine heightens, concern is growing disruptions to Russian gas flows could leave Europe's storage sites under-stocked for the winter.

Other measures introduced by Arera to help replenishment include abolishing a tariff shippers had to pay to hold space at sites and re-organising storage tenders to hold them several times weekly to allow a gradual filling of capacity.

Under the new rules Snam SRG.MI , whose main owner is state lender CDP, can also buy its annual needs of around 700 million cubic metres in April and inject it into storage.

Snam, which also operates Italy's gas transport network, runs more than 90% of storage capacity, including 4.5 bcm of strategic reserves. Italy's network, the second-biggest in Europe, is run as a regulated business.

According to Gas Infrastructure Europe, Italian capacity is currently 35% full compared to 42% the same time last year.

Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; editing by David Evans

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