TRANS-ADRIATIC PIPELINE: Knocking on Europeans’ doors

The tensions in eastern Ukraine and in Eastern Europe in general, the fragile Minsk ceasefire agreement, the western sanctions against Moscow and Russia’ ever more aggressive propaganda, all draw up an entire package of reasons for concern and need for an elaborated approach in various terms. There are military, economic, strategic and energy related dimensions.

Tap-Route-mapThe European Union is looking for ways to reduce dependence on Russia’s gas exports and energy in general. Unfortunately for the EU, there are lots of voices coming from within that keep it from taking a united stand and having a sole vision on the energy issue. However, steps are being taken, maybe timid and rather unclear. Late in February the European Commission has released the Energy Union Package including proposals. The unstated objective is to cut down dependence on Russia in terms of energy and to reduce Moscow’s capabilities to influence decisively the markets. An ambitious objective, having in view that the package seems to be rather made up of pieces of objectives and is not making up a comprehensive legal framework, as analysts say.

The package’s targets are related to the diversification of gas supply sources for Europe, to the modernisation of the electricity market and to the development of energy efficiency.

In this context, the building of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), part of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) project, is seen as one of the sources meant to reduce dependence on Russia and offer an alternative source of natural gas. Launched in 2013, the project is to transport the first gas in 2019-2020, with a branch to carry gas from Greece to Bulgaria and further north.

The TAP consortium of energy is formed by British oil giant BP (20%), Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR (20%), Norway’s Statoil (20%), Belgium’s Fluxys (19%), Spain’s Enagas (16%) and Switzerland’s Axpo (5%). The pipeline will transport gas from Shah Deniz-2, the biggest Azeri gas field in the Caspian Sea, across Turkey, Greece and Albania to Italy. TAP will be approximately 870 kilometres in length (Greece 545 km; Albania 211 km; Adriatic Sea 105 km; Italy 8 km). Its highest point will be 1,800 metres in Albania’s mountains, while its lowest will be 820 metres beneath the sea. The initial capacity of TAP will be about 10 billion cubic metres per year (bcm/y), with the option to expand the capacity up to 20 billion cm/year.

TAP has recently launched invitations to companies to submit expressions of interest for the construction of a 105 km offshore pipeline section under the Adriatic Sea. We are talking about two pre-qualification contracts (which include engineering, procurement, construction and installation) for the pipeline, which will be laid at a depth of 820 m. The second pre-qualification process will include the delivery of offshore line pipes and coating for the three sections of the works. But would TAP solve the energy issue for Europe? It’s a rather tricky question, as most countries back the Azeri supported project, but there are still voices that doubt its success. Meanwhile, the European Commission plays the goodwill game with Moscow. By early March, an EC official has confirmed that Gazprom might use the TAP to move gas if it builds the “Turkish Stream” pipeline and brings gas to Greece. It seems rather an unclear EC stand, but it comes to meet Russia’s expectations. The Russian envoy to the EU Vladimir Chizhov recently explained that Russia had changed tactics. Instead of building pipelines, it would bring gas to the EU borders from where the customers would take it, according to EurActiv information. More so, a Russian expert said his country was going to use the EU Energy Package to its advantage, rather than complaining about it. The countries where the pipeline will go through are generally interested in the project. By the beginning of March the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev paid a visit to Bulgaria to tackle the issue. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov expressed interest but said Bulgaria wants the EC to revive plans for the Nabucco pipeline. As both Nabucco and Southstream have been shelved, Bulgaria might have some regrets, as both were supposed to go via its territory, while TAP is just going to bring gas to its doors. Maybe the Vertical Corridor would mend part of these developments for Bulgaria. Sofia had to accept the Azeri explanation, that the name of the future pipeline is not important...

The new Greek government says it will support TAP, but – Athens has always had buts in its approach – “in a way that will maximize Greece’s benefits from the project” as Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said. Nevertheless, analysts say a policy of ‘wait and see’ is needed in relation with Greece when it comes to its relationship with the EU and in its approach to great projects such as TAP. The new cabinet has to prove its seriousness in dealing with the economic issues. On the other hand, the pipeline’s exact route through northern Greece has not yet been decided, since several cities, communities, and local initiatives have demanded alterations to the current construction plans, international agencies report.

Albania is more enthusiastic in regard of TAP. Late in February the Albanian Minister of Energy and Industry Damian Gjiknuri said his government supported the development of the trans-Adriatic pipeline project as part of the Southern Gas Corridor saying the goal is to transform Albania to become part of the European pipeline inter-connectors in order to diversify energy resources and consolidate energy supplies. And there’s no wonder in this approach, as the pipeline in Albania will be approximately 211 km long. TAP’s landfall in Albania will be located 17 km north-west of Fier city, up to 400 meters inland from the shoreline. The offshore section in Albanian territorial waters will be about 37 km, according to the Albanian Telegraphic Agency.

When it comes to Italy things seem to be a little bit confusing. PM Matteo Renzi said during a visit to Bari that the TAP must be built with “no ifs, ands or buts” and the Italian Environment Ministry has just given its definitive approval. Locals in southern Italy are not so enthusiastic. There are reports that people of Salento are reluctant. Some of them are actively opposing the project, together with the majority of local mayors and regional president Niki Vendola. A “No to TAP” committee is fighting a daily battle against the pipeline, which can count on the support of a majority of the Italian media. They have two kinds of objections, an ecological one and an economic one. The first objection is about the environmental damage that the new structure will spread in an uncontaminated area with centuries-old olive trees and a unique wildlife, which lives mainly on tourism. The second objection is about the uselessness of such a huge project in this unending period of economic crisis, newspaper “Il Fatto” informs. It further said that for Italian consumers the extra cost of the new projects that the Italian government wants to realize (TAP among them) will be about EUR 350 million per year.

There is also a different approach coming from the media. Other newspapers say TAP would get EUR 80 million per year expenditures for five years up to EUR 380 million, and will create some 340 new jobs for a long period of time.

TAP will by-pass Russia to knock on Europeans’ doors sooner or later. Expected to have a maximum capacity of some 20 billion cubic metres per year by 2025, TAP is nevertheless much below what the late Southstream targets: 150 billion cubic metres per year. It will be an opportunity to show alternative energy sources can be made available for the countries of the old continent. For certain it will not be enough to meet the growing demand, but it could be the first step beyond the EU’s long time stammering.

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March 2015

June 2017