Romania, the first natural gas exporter in Europe
- Written by Dumitru Chisalita, Judicial Technical Expert in Oil & Gas
Romania can be considered one of the first three countries in the world in terms of pioneering in the natural gas industry, holding numerous European premieres for specific activities in this sector. Romania was the first country in Europe to export natural gas, which started on August 30, 1940.
The first natural gas export in the world began in 1891 with the laying of a pipeline from Bartie, Ontario - Canada to Buffalo, New York - USA. The world’s second-largest gas export and the first in Europe started on August 30, 1940, when the Vienna Diktat came into force and Northern Transylvania was annexed by Hungary.
Following the agreements between Joachim von Ribbentrop and Gian Galeazzo Ciano, the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Italy, concluded in Vienna on August 26, 1940, the fate of Romania was decided: “either an arbitration will be concluded on Transylvania, or it will be the end of Romania,” Romanian Foreign Minister Mihail Manoilescu was saying. Thus, on August 30, 1940 the ‘Vienna Diktat’ was signed, which had significant territorial consequences on Transylvania. Following these events, the city of Tg. Mures, where SONAMETAN Gas Company had a natural gas distribution, was taken over by the Hungarian state. The Gas Distribution Division Tg. Mures, with its entire inventory and the transmission pipeline Seuca Tg. Mures, on a 9-km sector, was to operate on Hungary’s territory. The distribution division and the transmission pipeline were still operated by SONAMETAN, which exported gas from Romania (from the remaining territory of Romania) from the Saros field. The export continued until 1944, when Transylvania was taken over by Romania.
International statistics do not take this historical moment into account and establish that the world’s second-largest natural gas export and the first in Europe was the 1946 export from the USSR to Warsaw, from the Stryji gas field in western Belarus. Although this moment is recorded in the specialized works as the first export of natural gas, we believe that the situation must be analysed in terms of its history. Thus, the Stryji area, from which the gas was exported and the territory on which the pipeline was laid, belonged to Poland, which after 1945 was ceded to the USSR, following international conventions. The use of the Stryji field and the construction of the gas transmission pipelines were also carried out by the Poles. The above-mentioned issues allow us to appreciate that the USSR ‘received’ a gas deposit and the pipeline system for gas transmission from this deposit to a delivery direction - Warsaw – which were set before the USSR has taken over the territory. Concluding, this first gas delivery can be considered as a required technical export and less one commonly agreed on the basis of negotiations. A similar situation occurred six years earlier in Romania, also by a favourable situation, which is why I consider that the first export of natural gas in Europe was the one made by Romania to Hungary in 1940.
Cataloguing the two aforementioned situations as conjectural, the first gas export in Europe established through negotiation was made in 1958 between Romania and Hungary on the basis of the Convention between the Governments of Romania and Hungary, signed in 1952, thereby agreeing on the supply of natural gas to Hungary (a historical moment also not considered by any international statistics).
On June 12, 1952, a convention was signed between the Governments of Romania and Hungary, which agreed to deliver natural gas to Hungary through a 10-inch pipeline built west of Satu Mare. This operation was made 61 years after the world’s first natural gas export, the one from Canada to the US.
On March 6, 1956, through a Decision of the Council of Ministers, the provisions of the Convention were amended, and the inauguration of this pipeline was to take place on October 1, 1958, to deliver an annual quantity of 200 million cubic meters for 25 years.
This export took place seven years before the commercial export of gas from the Netherlands to Germany and nine years before Russia’s commercial gas export (the world’s largest exporter of gas since the 1980s hitherto) to Czechoslovakia. Romania’s exports varied between 3.3% of the gas output in 1949 and 0.8% in 1973.
Although the Convention signed between the Governments of Hungary and Romania provided for the export of gas to Hungary over a period of 25 years (until 1983), its provisions could not be met due to the increase in domestic gas consumption, to the depletion of deposits and to the clauses of the gas import contract from the Russian Federation (banning the export the Russian gas). 1981 was the last year in which Romania was among the countries exporting natural gas.