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  „South Stream” versus„Nabucco”: pipeline competition (1)

Jurgita Laurinënaitë
2010 01 14

By the end of the year talks about the „gas wars“ between Russia and Ukraine resumed and they can affect the European states which are not involved in the dispute. Europe doesn’t feel safe and is focused on the three new projects which are to diversify the pipeline network to the Old Continent: Nord Stream, South Stream and Nabucco.

Europe cannot rely on the new pipelines Nord Stream and South Stream, since Russia is behind them. It cannot also rely on the old pipelines, since behind them is Russia, Ukraine and Belarus which cannot be referred to as reliable. Moreover, Europe cannot trust the own Nabucco, since there is nobody behind it: so far there is neither a specific project and safe route guarantees, nor reliable suppliers.

Nord Stream does not have direct competitors. Together with Germany and several foreign companies Russia is going to construct pipelines through the Baltic Sea, eliminate possible transit countries and export gas directly to Germany. Whereas South Stream, a joint project of Russia, Italy and certain Balkan countries, is competing with Nabucco supported by the EU. Competition is obvious and financially disastrous: there is no need to have two analogous pipelines connecting gas undertakings of Russia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia. Certainly there‘ll be room for both, but from the commercial point of view one of them might end in failure.

In view of the recent events, the conclusion could be made that South Stream has stepped forward. The French have also expressed their will to invest to this pipeline. Besides them and Italians, Slovenians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Hungarians, Serbs and Austrians are also involved in the project. Negotiations are under way with Romanians and Turkish. Some of the above countries have also signed contracts concerning construction of Nabucco, but they also have nothing against contributing to a competitive project.

It is anticipated that the amount of gas transported via South Stream (which should have reached 31 billion cubic meters per year) would increase twice under a new plan. If this ambition is realized, Nabucco pipelines might stay empty even if it is constructed.

We must not forget that analysts are often critical toward Russia‘s intentions to construct new pipelines, since construction processes usually are delayed.  But the EU does not hurry as well: ambitious energy projects sometimes are stuck in the stage of contract elaboration.

The talks on the above projects have been heard for several years and, according to certain experts, the best way out would be constructing one joint pipeline, e.g. South Nabucco.

The EU would hardly manage to reach the initial goal of Nabucco, i.e. at least partial independence of Europe on the Russian gas. The main shortcoming of this project is that gas consumers are known, and suppliers are not identified.

Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Iran– it is not clear from which country gas could be imported via Nabucco pipeline. Every potential supplier has own priorities and ambitions: long-term contracts with Russia, new opportunities in the Chinese market and political regime not complying with the values of democratic Europe. Without suppliers’ guarantees, it’ll be necessary to import gas from Russia.

And here is the paradox of the supposed South Nabucco: Europe diversifies only the pipeline network but not its gas import market. The beginning of all the three planned pipelines could be in Russia, and energetically Europe would nevertheless be dependent on political solutions of the Kremlin.

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