High energy costs force Europe factory closures amid fears of losing out to US Duralex glassware maker is just one company that's suspended operations over spiking energy costs after a cutoff of Russian natural gas.

Europe fears its industries will jet to the U.S. as energy costs force plant closures

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More than anywhere else, Europe is reeling from the energy crisis. Before the war in Ukraine, Russia supplied almost 40% of Europe's natural gas. Today, it's just 6% after Russia all but cut off gas exports to the EU and U.K. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, the shortage and skyrocketing prices are forcing some companies to temporarily close, which could change the industrial landscape of Europe.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A bulldozer is scooping piles of sand at iconic French glassmaker Duralex. The company, which exports its sturdy, everyday glassware worldwide, has been operating at this factory outside of Orleans since 1945 - until this month, when natural gas soared from 4 to 40% of production cost says Duralex forecast manager Guillaume Bourbon.

GUILLAUME BOURBON: It's, like, crazy for us. We can't pay that much for energy. It's not possible.

BEARDSLEY: So you shut down until when?

BOURBON: Until April.

BEARDSLEY: The assembly lines are empty inside the plant, which in normal times had 250 workers around the clock producing some 200,000 pieces a day. Bourbon shows me the furnace which heats the sand to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Since it can't be completely shut down, glass is cycled through to keep it running.

Globs of molten glass are coming out the bottom of it, but they're just going into a bin to be fed back through. But in normal times, they would go into this process where I can see the molds that would press them into glasses and bowls.

FRANCOIS MARCIANO: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Francois Marciano is director of the site. He says Duralex will pause production until April. That's when a new, cheaper, long-term gas contract begins.

MARCIANO: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He says, "I never imagined we'd face such an insane situation, one that makes projecting business operations impossible." Companies across Europe are going into sleep mode. Gas-heavy fertilizer makers have all but halted production. Steelmaker ArcelorMittal temporarily shuttered another one of its large steel mills in France. That follows decisions to partially suspend operations at plants in Spain, Germany and Poland.

FRANCOIS-REGIS MOUTON: My concern as European citizen - that this industry will be closed and will not start again.

BEARDSLEY: That's Francois-Regis Mouton, Europe director of the International Oil and Gas Producers Association. It's not just the war, he says. EU policymakers should have been less dogmatic about gas and climate ambitions for the future and considered Europe's energy independence in the present.

MOUTON: They keep saying it's fossil gas, fossil gas. We need to kill fossil gas. OK. You have killed it now more or less, so how do we survive? So instead of doing that, they could have said, OK, it would be better to produce it in Europe, not to be too dependent from Russia. As a consequence, domestic production in Europe is declining a lot because we do not invest.

BEARDSLEY: Now, Europe has no time and is desperately looking for gas for the coming winters. Much of its current needs will be met by liquefied natural gas, LNG exports from the U.S. But it won't be enough, says energy analyst Thierry Bros.

THIERRY BROS: Quite a bit of those industries will never reopen in Europe. We are never going to get enough energy anyway, so why on Earth would you use gas in Europe if it's coming from LNG from the U.S.? You're much better off putting your chemical company in the U.S.

BEARDSLEY: There is increasing talk of a coming deindustrialization of Europe, bringing unemployment, a change of lifestyle and possibly social unrest, says Bros.

BROS: I think Vladimir Putin is going to play on this. I think this is what he wanted. What Vladimir Putin has done is doing two wars.

BEARDSLEY: A war in Ukraine and another using energy as a weapon against Europe. Bros says Putin is betting he'll win at least one of them. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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