Last update : 01.04.2019

Natural gas networks

Some 98% of France’s natural gas is imported. It is brought into the country and transported to consumers via gas infrastructures, which are essential to the smooth functioning of the market and the security of supply:

  • The transmission networks carry imported gas from onshore interconnectors with neighbouring countries and LNG terminals. They are also vital to the integration of the French market with the wider European market;
  • Gas storage installations play an important role in managing seasonal variations in consumer demand, providing the flexibility needed to balance the transmission networks, and ensuring the security of supply;
  • LNG terminals are used to import liquefied natural gas and diversify natural gas supply sources, given the development of the global LNG market;
  • The distribution networks carry gas from the transmission networks to end consumers not directly connected to the transmission networks.

CRE guarantees access to gas infrastructures. It sets the rules and tariffs paid to access the natural gas transmission and distribution networks as well as regulated LNG terminals, and also determines the method used to calculate storage tariffs. In Europe, it contributes to the work of the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), aimed at harmonising the rules governing the operation of gas infrastructures to improve market integration.


The natural gas transmission networks


The transmission network comprises pipelines and compression stations, and consists of:

  • A principal network, including all of the high pressure, wide gauge pipelines linking interconnectors with neighbouring countries, underground storage facilities and LNG terminals. The regional network and the largest industrial gas consumers are connected directly to the principal network;
  • A regional network, which carries natural gas to the distribution networks and large end consumers who are directly connected to this regional network.

Natural gas is transported underground through large steel pipes, travelling at around 30 km/h. It is slowed down by friction with the inner surface of the pipes, causing a drop in pressure at the network’s extremities. To compensate for this drop in pressure, compression stations (between 65 and 95 bars) are installed on the principal network, at intervals of around 150 km.

There are two natural gas transmission system operators (TSOs) in France:

  • GRTgaz, a subsidiary of ENGIE, operates the low-calorific value (L) gas network in the north of the country, and the majority of the high-calorific value (H) gas network;
  • TIGF, a subsidiary of a consortium that includes SNAM, C31, GIC and Predica, operates the H gas network in the south-west.

Since the implementation of Gas Directive 2009/73/EC, European TSOs have cooperated through ENTSOG, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas.


The natural gas distribution networks

Around 11 million consumers are connected to the natural gas distribution networks. They are supplied by 26 natural gas distribution system operators (DSOs), of varying sizes:

  • GRDF distributes 96% of the natural gas distributed and transports natural gas across most of France;
  • 22 smaller DSOs, also known as local distribution companies:
    • Régaz-Bordeaux and R-GDS, which each account for around 1.5% of the total gas distributed in France, and respectively supply the city of Bordeaux and 45 other municipalities in the Gironde département, and the city of Strasbourg and 113 other municipalities in the Lower Rhine département (including 80 in tariff-adjusted zones);
    • 20 other DSOs account for a total of 1% of the gas distributed, and are not legally required to unbundle their distribution activities from their production or supply activities;
  • 3 DSOs known as “new entrants” for the distribution of natural gas in France: Antargaz since October 2008, the SICAE of Somme and Cambraisis since April 2010, and Séolis since July 2014, their respective original activities being distribution of propane, butane and electricity.


LNG terminals

LNG terminals are port-based gas infrastructures which receive shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported by ship, store it in liquid form and convert it back into gas for injection into the natural gas transmission network. France currently has four working LNG terminals.

The terminals at Montoir-de-Bretagne (near Saint-Nazaire) and Fos Tonkin (near Fos-sur-Mer) are operated by Elengy, a fully-owned subsidiary of Engie. The Fos Cavaou terminal (near Fos-sur-Mer) is operated by Fosmax LNG, a subsidiary of Elengy and Total Gaz Electricité Holding France (TGEHF). These three terminals are regulated. The Dunkirk terminal, which has been open since the end of 2016, is operated by Dunkerque LNG (EDF 65.01%, Fluxys 25%, Total 9.99%). It has a complete twenty-year exemption from regulated third party access and tariff regulation for its entire capacity. The exemption was granted by an order of 18 February 2010, following a favourable opinion issued by CRE on 16 July 2009, and in accordance with the European Commission’s opinion of 20 January 2010.


Natural gas storage facilities

Underground storage facilities are used to adapt incoming supplies, which are received regularly throughout the year, to demand by end consumers, which is seasonal. They are filled in the summer, and the gas they contain is withdrawn during the winter, in particular during periods of very cold weather. In addition to their key role in the security of supply, these facilities are also vital for flexibility and system balancing. Since 2018, the storage sites deemed necessary to the security of supply in the Multiannual Energy Programme have been regulated.

These infrastructures are essential to the proper functioning of the natural gas market, and are operated by two companies:

  • Storengy operates 12 sites across France, except in the south-west and owned by Storengy or Géométhane. These sites are grouped into seven storage groupings: Sediane B, Sediane, Sediane Littoral, Serene Nord, Serene Sud, Saline and Saline Multi;
  • TIGF operates two sites in the south-west (Izaute and Lussagnet) which together form a single storage grouping.


CRE’s role

CRE guarantees all market operators fair, non-discriminatory and transparent access to gas infrastructures. This is an essential role, which aims to ensure that the gas market is successfully opened up to competition for the benefit of consumers.

CRE also works to ensure that true competition is developed in the retail market. By guaranteeing all gas suppliers non-discriminatory, fair and transparent access to gas infrastructures, the regulator allows them to provide offers in the same conditions. 

In short, CRE:

  • Guarantees access to gas infrastructures and helps to determine access rules;
  • Determines the rules and tariffs for access to the natural gas transmission and distribution networks, as well as regulated LNG terminals and underground natural gas storage facilities;
  • Contributes to the work of the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), aimed at harmonising the rules governing the operation of gas infrastructures to improve market integration in Europe.