TRENDS AND COUNTER-TRENDS FOR GAS SUPPLY IN EUROPE. DOES THE EU HAVE A COHERENT ENERGY POLICY?

The drop in oil prices on international markets has made victims, analyzed ever since, but perhaps the most important one is Russia, which has seen its export earnings strongly hit and thus will register a significant economic decline in 2015 of about 3.5% of GDP, accompanied by a budget deficit of 3%. Although for 2016 Moscow authorities anticipate an economic growth of 2%, things are far from being rosy.

In this context, additional sources of revenue from exports are needed. As natural gas is also an important source, it has become the current target for Moscow. If in January Gazprom denied any plan to extend Nord Stream, in June it announced the decision to double the transport capacity of natural gas to Europe through the pipeline and, at the beginning of September, Gazprom has already signed, with several leading companies in Europe, an agreement to double gas exports and to build Nord Stream-2.

The EUR 10 billion project was signed by Gazprom with E.ON, ENGIE, Royal Dutch Shell, OMV and BASF. The pact was signed at the Economic Forum in Vladivostok and provides the construction of two new lines, the third and fourth, for Nord Stream pipeline and the increasing of transport capacity to 55 billion cubic meters per year, to become operational in 2019. The project will be carried out by a company called New European Pipeline, in which Gazprom will hold 51% and E.ON, Shell, OMV and BASF/Wintershall will each hold 10%, while ENGIE will have a 9% stake.

The contract confirms the statements of various western analysts, according to whom a large part of the European energy policy is in the hands of companies and not of the countries, and that the above mentioned agreement prevents the implementation of European energy policy.

In addition, it must be said that Europe’s ‘hunger’ for energy resources is linked to the prospect of giving up (for Germany, at least) nuclear energy, which leads to an urgent search activity of alternative resources.

On the other hand, the development of Nord Stream is also related to Russia’s desire to avoid the route through Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. The volume of gas transit through Ukraine to Western Europe road would drop to about a third, from 2/3 before the inauguration of the Nord Stream-1 in 2011 and from 1/2 now.

Obviously, Eastern European countries are not delighted of the outcome, on the contrary, they would lose billions of dollars that could have been charged in transit taxes. Immediately after signing the contract, the prime ministers of Slovakia and Ukraine, Robert Fico and Arseniy Yatsenyuk met in Bratislava. “They mock us. You cannot talk for months how to stabilize the situation and then take a decision putting Ukraine and Slovakia in an unenviable position,” said the Slovak Prime Minister referring to Western states and to the companies which “betray us”. In turn, Polish President Andrzej Duda said later about the same topic that Poland’s interests are being ignored, the EU unity is affected and the winner is none other but Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Gazprom faces failures as well, related to the postponement of the first pipeline of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, originally scheduled for late 2016. The works were due to begin in June 2015, but Russian and Turkish governments have failed to sign a formal agreement. Turkey and Russia have frozen the talks on the Turkish Stream. The pipeline is to cross the Black Sea up to the border between Turkey and Greece, further on could reach consumers in southern Europe. According to the preliminary agreement agreed upon in December 2014 by Gazprom and Botas, the total capacity of the entire Turkish Stream project is estimated to 63 billion cubic meters per year, of which 43 billion cubic meters would fuel Turkey.

Europe’s ‘hunger’ for energy resources is huge. Proof stand also the record natural gas deliveries to Western Europe from Norway in August, 8.7 billion cubic meters, higher than Gazprom’s exports of 8.556 billion cubic meters (down due to maintenance). Thus, in January-August 2015, the gas deliveries from Norway to Western European countries reached 67.381 billion cubic meters.

Diversification efforts made by the EU regarding energy resources continue in another way as well. Even in early September, an important delegation of Spanish businessmen travelled to Tehran to discuss future cooperation, in view of the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran (following the agreement signed on July 14 by Iran with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany on the nuclear program), most likely early next year. Finally, Spain and Iran signed an agreement on the export of Iranian gas to Europe. Iran is ready to develop the necessary infrastructure to deliver the liquefied natural gas from the gas perimeter of Pars, the largest in the world. As a result, the Repsol representatives held talks with Iranian national oil company to find the formula by which the natural gas from Iran will reach the European markets.

Spain is the only country that flirts with Iranian exports of gas. The European Union as a whole looks to Iran as to a potential exporter of natural gas to the continent, targeting a volume of 25-30 billion cubic meters per year by 2030. This level would practically equal the level of gas imports from North Africa (another source for Europe) and reduce the dependence on Russia - which currently supplies around 130 billion cubic meters of gas per year.

Also in early September, European Commissioner for Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, had a working lunch with delegates from major companies in the field such as RWE, E.ON, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol, Total, ENGIE and Statoil and discussed about the prospects of cooperation with Iran. “European officials want to ensure that European companies aren’t feeling constrained to go along,” said one participant.

It seems the EU interest is really huge in relation to Iran. “We want our companies to be there and invest... before the Americans and the Chinese,” said a European official. Open to Europeans’ interest, Tehran received delegations not only from Spain but also important delegations from Britain, France, Italy, Poland and Germany.

Moreover, it seems that the volumes of gas to be imported from Iran will be introduced next year in the European Commission’s strategy on LNG, meaning, analysts say, Iranian gas will not be connected to the Southern Corridor (which will transport natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe), but will be transported as LNG to Spain (which has the necessary facilities) and subsequently transported by pipeline to the rest of European countries. Iran is even more optimistic, sees the deadline for implementation in five years and not in 15 years as the EU envisages. In addition, Iran wants to publicize the new contracts signed and to reveal the incentives for companies that will operate in the energy field in December, in London.

It’s hard to see as coherent the current policy of the European Union in view of diversification of energy supply, since the major Western companies have just signed an agreement with Gazprom regarding Nord Stream-2, while the EU claims to target the decrease of dependence on Russian gas. Efforts are being made, however. The next period will bring certain clarifications.

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