Austria plans to spare industry some rationing if it adds to gas reserves

VIENNA, May 17 (Reuters) - Austria plans to exempt large industrial companies from at least some gas rationing if they keep up to half a year's supply in national storage facilities the country is racing to fill, the government said on Tuesday.

Austria obtains 80% of its natural gas from Russia, a heavy reliance that it is trying to end in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and the threat of Russian gas supplies being cut off, though the government says finding enough alternatives will take years.

Austria has drawn up an emergency plan for a possible gas shortage while trying to fill its storage facilities to 80% of their capacity, the fifth-largest national capacity in the European Union. Austria's emergency plan provides for rationing of companies' gas before households'.

"Companies that have stored their gas reserves (in national storage) will not immediately be affected by energy control measures but rather will be able to continue to dispose of their gas," Chancellor Karl Nehammer said in a statement issued by his office, using a term for rationing under the emergency plan.

"Should it nonetheless become necessary in the event of an absolute crisis to access this gas in order to maintain our country's structural supply, the company would be compensated accordingly," he said.

A draft legislative amendment including the measures has yet to be passed by parliament and requires a two-thirds majority, the statement said, adding that it was due to be debated in the lower house on Thursday. All parties except the far-right Freedom Party had supported it in committee, it said.

The paper industry, which includes packaging maker Mayr-Melnhof (MMKV.VI), and steelmakers such as Voestalpine (VOES.VI) are among Austria's biggest industrial users of natural gas and those that could be hit hardest in the event of a shortage.

Reporting by Francois Murphy and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.