Aegean Pipeline Could Help Break EU Russia Gas Dependence

While European officials fret about their dependence on Russia for natural gas, a pipeline across the Aegean Sea could provide the E.U. with an alternative to those supplies and turn Greece into a regional power broker. 

The 285-kilometer link will deliver natural gas from central Asia to northeastern Greece and help diversify Europe’s fuel imports by giving non-Russian gas its first direct western outlet. 

When finished, the EUR250 million Turkey-Greece Interconnector will link the longtime Aegean rivals through a 36-inch pipeline running from the Turkish town of Karacabey to the northern Greek town of Komotini. It will carry natural gas from Azerbaijan’s massive Shakh Deniz gas field and possibly other suppliers as well. 

Julian Lee, senior analyst at London’s Center for Global Energy Studies, believes the pipeline’s significance is “fundamentally political.” 

“It is a tangible symbol of cooperation between Greece and Turkey on an economic level but it’s also the first step in opening up a southern gas route to Europe from the Caspian,” Lee told The Associated Press. 

In a bid to stave off reliance on Russian gas sources and pipeline networks, the E.U. – whose postwar origins lay largely in energy cooperation – is funding up to 40% of the Interconnector costs. 

Another E.U.-Russia summit focusing on energy will be held in Helsinki on Nov. 24. 

The Interconnector is expected to solidify Turkey’s emergence as an energy hub and highlight its strategic importance to the E.U. it aspires to join. Turkey already imports gas from Russia, via the undersea Blue Stream pipeline, from Iran and, soon, from Azerbaijan through the South Caucasus line. Ambitious Turkish re-export plans include the Nabucco gas pipeline to Austria. 

And Nikos Stephanou, general secretary of the Greek Development Ministry, spoke of “the leading role of our country” in creating a Southeast Europe Energy Community during its first ministerial council meeting over the weekend in Skopje, Macedonia. 

Construction delays, however, are plaguing the Interconnector, Turkey’s pipeline company BOTAS said last week. Originally scheduled for an end-of-year opening, the project isn’t expected to be operational before next summer – an untimely reflection of slow progress toward Turkey’s E.U. accession. 

This latest setback coincided with an international gas conference last week near Athens, between distribution companies from Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey, Russia and host Greece – all major outlets for Russian gas. 

The Interconnector’s modest initial capacity of 3.5 billion cubic meters will eventually rise to 12 billion a year, with about 8 billion of that exported to the rest of Europe – once Poseidon, a 212-kilometer undersea Italy-Greece Interconnector, comes on stream around 2010 – forming the Southern Europe Gas Ring Project, with branch lines to the Balkans. 

Along with the controversial Nord Stream pipeline being built from Russia to Germany, the southern Interconnectors aim to relieve pressure on the pipeline from Russia across Ukraine to Europe – whose reliability was jeopardized last January by a bitter price row between the former Soviet nations that led to a temporary supply cutoff. 

Channeling non-Russian gas into Europe may be “part of the rationale in many people’s minds, but Turkey is already importing gas from Russia; perhaps more than it can use,” Lee said. 

Wary of more summer blackouts and winter shutdowns, the E.U. has been scrambling to forge a viable 21st century energy strategy. The bloc will unveil an energy “road map” in January following its exploratory green paper last March, and has prioritized gas use from diverse sources. 

Source: AP

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