CPC Special Brief: Role of the US And Caspian Natural Gas Exports for European Energy Security and Diversification
The US and Caspian Export Prospects via the Vertical Gas Corridor: Implications for EU Energy Security and Energy Market Integration in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans
A series of developments over the past few weeks regarding the Vertical Gas Corridor concept have demonstrated a consolidated approach to ensure interconnectivity on the South-North axis and to promote integrated gas transmission systems, hopefully in a more competitive price environment, for Southeastern and Central and Eastern member-states, as well as for Eastern European and Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU entry.
To start with, the fourth meeting of the Central and South-Eastern Europe Connectivity (CESEC) High Level group, held on September 28, resulted in the establishment of two working groups, consisted of the involved gas transmission system operators and supported by the European Commission, one of which will assume responsibility for putting into effect the idea of a vertical gas pipeline route extending from Greece to Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. As for the other, it will oversee implementing reverse flow on the Trans-Balkan pipeline system.
A few days earlier, the 182km-long Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, the first link in the Vertical Corridor northward supply chain, had been issued the sought-after construction permit on Bulgarian territory by the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works. What’s more, Greek Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) formally agreed with utility company Gastrade on participation in the development of a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) in Alexandroupolis, northern Greece, projected to serve as an entry point for US LNG into the Balkans. Houston-based Tellurian Energy and state-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding are said to also eye a stake in the project, upon which will depend the utilization of IGB’s full capacity in the next phase of the market test, as both pieces of infrastructure are directly complementary to each other.
Considering the foregoing, it is deemed useful to look in more detail into the origins and evolution of the envisaged Vertical Corridor project and its facilitating role in the efforts to transport additional diversified gas quantities, provided both from the Caspian Sea and US shale imports, towards the isolated, poorly liberalized and often dominated by a single supplier (namely, Russia’s Gazprom) southeastern and central and eastern European markets.
ToNabucco pipeline was supposed to help increase the gas liquidity of Baumgarten gas hub, reaching to those member-states mostly affected by the 2006 and 2009 Russian-Ukrainian gas disputes. However, its multi-kilometer network didn’t manage to assuage concerns over excessive costs and was finally aborted, as it failed to attract adequate non-binding bids for its initial 10BCM capacity during the crucial months before the announcement of the FID. On the other hand, the selection of TAP as the third segment of the $45bn Southern Gas Corridor gas value chain is justified by the fact that its significantly shorter 878km-long route across Greece, Albania and Italy is argued to be cost-effective, since it allows Europe to utilize reverse flows towards multiple directions, while its underground storage facilities may ensure a secure and reliable gas supply in case of future energy shortages.
With the help of swaps and reverse flows, Trans Austria Gas pipeline (TAG) could carry Azeri gas from TAP to Central and Eastern Europe, while Transitgas pipeline could transfer Caspian resources via Switzerland to Germany and France. Moreover, TAP contributes to Bulgaria’s energy diversification thanks to its capability of sending reverse flows to the Kula-Sidirokastro line and IGB. Finally, the proposed Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline (IAP), another yet connection to TAP, will cover gas demand in ill-supplied markets, such as Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and, of course, Albania, who has all these years kept in motion a continuous dialogue process with TAP AG in hopes of developing its national grid and transforming itself into a regional gas hub in the Western Balkans.
Consequently, TAP’s potential to connect with other planned pipelines, like IGB, has given a push to coordinated intergovernmental cooperation for the realization of the Vertical Corridor. The term implies a comprehensive gas interconnectivity strategy that intends to facilitate gas transportation from Greece through Bulgaria, Romania and further on to Hungary and Ukraine, among other likely to be concerned countries, taking advantage of the south-to-north reverse flow option. Furthermore, in accordance with EU’s determination to bolster the security of supply through the completion of a single energy market, it may well speed up the gasification of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, simultaneously with a sustainable integration of the gas transmission systems of all interested and involved parties.
The idea dates to 2014, when the government representatives of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania inked a joint declaration in support of a new Vertical Gas Corridor that would guarantee ‘uninterrupted bidirectional supplies’ form one country to another through the implementation of EU-financed Projects of Common Interest, in the form of both pipeline interconnectors and LNG terminals, thus complementing the core Commission’s policy towards a Southern Gas Corridor. In that same year, TAP AG and ICGB, IGB’s contractor, co-signed a Memorandum of Understanding on technical collaboration for the development of strategic infrastructure in Southeastern Europe, as a proof of the close correlation between the two pipeline projects. In July 2017, gas transmission system operators from Greece (DESFA), Bulgaria (Bulgartransgaz), Romania (Transgaz) and Hungary (FGSZ), as well as the ICGB consortium, affirmed eagerness to activate a vertical gas supply route by signing a fresh agreement in Bucharest. In 2016, a similar MoU had been signed in Budapest by DESFA, Bulgartransgaz, Transgaz and Ukrainian counterpart Ukrtransgaz, a fact indicative of the broad geographical spectrum of the initiative.
To decompose the Vertical Corridor pipeline network into separate modules, attention should be initially paid to the €220M ($257.4M) Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, extending from Komotini, Northern Greece, to the Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora. Bulgarian Energy Holding EAD and IGI Poseidon SA (comprised of the Greek DEPA and the Italian Edison) each hold a 50% stake in the ICGB AD joint venture company, which, since 2011, has been commissioned to design, develop, finance, construct and operate the pipeline. Designated as an EU Project of Common Interest, IGB is entitled to a total of €45M ($52.6M) under the European Energy Program for Recovery, with additional resources expected to be attracted by EBRD. After prolonged delays due to questions over its economic viability in view of low gas prices, IGB construction is now scheduled for mid-2018, as soon as Bulgarian and Greek energy regulatory authorities decide on the interconnector’s exemption from the EU ownership unbundling and third-party access rules. Once completed, it will be able to deliver some 3-5BCM/a with reverse flow capacity. Currently, there is only one existing interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria, the Kula-Sidirokastro line, that mainly carries Russian gas from Bulgaria into Greece, and whose option for reverse flows amounts to no more than 1BCM/a. Therefore, IGB can fully cover Bulgaria’s annual gas consumption, estimated at around 3BCM/a. Presently, domestic demand is for the most part satisfied by Gazprom. According to recent data provided by the state-owned gas producer, exports to Bulgaria rose to 8.6% from January 1 to October 15.
On top of that, a further 1.5BCM could be annually sent to Romania through the already built by Austria’s Habau Interconnector Bulgaria-Romania (Ruse-Giurgiu pipeline), or else the next link in the Vertical Corridor chain. The 25km-long line is priced at €24M ($28M), €9M ($11M) of which were allocated by the European Commission. Even though Romania is considered the least dependent on Russian gas due to domestic resource base and production, its import of 1.48BCM of gas by Gazprom in 2016 constitutes an extraordinary 740% growth in comparison with 2015.
Lastly, the planned launch of bidirectional flows on another low-capacity interconnector between Romania and Hungary (Arad-Szeged pipeline), commissioned back in 2010, will permit the latter to extricate itself from a ‘’southern energy blockade’’, as the Hungarian government put it, that has compelled the country to maintain tighter gas ties with Russia. As Romania prepares to start offshore gas production from two of its Black Sea fields by 2019 and Azerbaijani gas is anticipated to reach Central Europe via both the Vertical Corridor network and the EU-backed Bulgaria-Romania-Hungary-Austria pipeline (BRUA), Hungary now reasonably seeks a slice of the pie.
Serbia, a country that witnessed a nearly 30% rise in imports from Gazprom until mid-October, might also benefit from the Vertical Corridor through the proposed Interconnector Bulgaria-Serbia. The 150km-long reverse-flow pipeline from Sofia to Dimitrovgrad is listed among the European PCIs, but progress on it has been impeded due to a lack of financing for the Serbian portion, despite EBRD loans. However, the scrapping of South Stream, in 2014, owing to non-compliance issues with the Third Energy Package, has gradually accelerated bilateral deliberations on the enhancement of interconnectivity between the two states, vowing to make IBS operational by 2020. Other countries that could at some point profit from the Vertical Corridor are FYROM, through the interconnection point Kyustendil-Zidilovo of the Bulgarian national network, Moldova and Ukraine, through Isaccea interconnection point on Romania’s Eastern Transmission Corridor.
Apart from existing and prospective interconnectors awaiting to be supplied by Shah Deniz gas and whoever else eventually books TAP’s additional open-access 10BCM capacity after 2020, the Vertical Corridor route is at the same time heavily relied upon many LNG terminals on Greece’s north Aegean cost, following the latest trend of a steady growth in global LNG demand at approximately 12% per annum, as Tellurian SVP, Tarek Souki, recently estimated at a conference. This is good news for the forthcoming wave of US LNG cargo deliveries that will try to path their way to the key Eastern European clientele, aside from traditional principal destinations in Latin American, Mexico, Asia and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, since US shale has to be liquefied, shipped across the Atlantic and re-gasified at the EU’s doorstep, its cost unavoidably rises to around $7/MMBtu, meaning that contract holders will have to pay some $2.5 to 3.5/MMBtu in liquefaction fees, whereas Russian natural gas pipeline prices at the German border average at a little over $4/MMBtu. Even though US LNG currently seems practically unaffordable for Balkan and Eastern Europe allies, hopes are high that prices will soon start to converge. Besides, the competition created by US companies’ presence in Central Europe is believed to prompt regional low-cost providers, like Gazprom, into a future rethink of their gas pricing methods.
Alexandroupolis proposed 170TCM LNG terminal, featuring in the EU’s PCI list, is considered crucial for the supply of the Vertical Corridor with US gas volumes via Northern Greece. Current stakeholders include Greek utility Gastrade, the Monaco-based LNG shipowner Gaslog, whose ships had been used for the transportation of two of the first 17 LNG cargoes exported by Cheniere Energy from the Louisiana Sabine Pass terminal, back in 2016, and latest affiliate DEPA, each holding a 20% share in this independent natural gas transmission project. Final Investment Decision is expected by early 2018, while UK contractor Wood Group has been awarded the front-end engineering design for the subsea aspects of the unit.
DEPA has also completed evaluation and technical feasibility studies for a separate FSRU, the so-called Aegean LNG, in the Kavala Bay Area region, Northern Greece, where the Greek Public Gas Corporation possesses property rights. This is also identified as a priority project, for EU energy security to be boosted. Greece began importing and storing primarily Algerian LNG in 2000, at its Revithoussa LNG terminal, located on an islet west of Athens. Thanks to this piece of infrastructure, Greece was left unaffected by the supply shortages of the 2009 Russian-Ukrainian energy crisis and was even able to cover neighboring Bulgaria’s gas demand for a two-day period, at the time. The second upgrade of Revithoussa, ongoing since 2010 and scheduled to be finalized by spring 2018, as confirmed by the Greek energy Minister, will result in the construction of a third LNG storage tank with a 95TCM capacity, that will increase the total storage capacity of the plant to 225TCM.
Full activation of the Vertical Corridor is interlinked with the progress of both LNG units in Northern Greece, as well as to the Revithoussa upgrade, because further LNG capacity will contribute to the familiarization of all concerned countries with spot gas trading, a thus far neglected alternative, because of the prevailing situation of long-term piped gas contracts in the region. Moreover, US shale imports, conjointly with Caspian gas supplies via the Southern Gas Corridor, can act as a game changer for the security of supply in Central and Southeastern Europe, enabling this geographical group of member-states and Energy Community parties to comply with the Energy Union goals concerning the obligatory access of each and every one of them to at least three different energy sources.
As shown by the agenda of previous week’s meeting between US President Donald Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the White House, Greece looks to be in the process of setting the necessary preconditions to emerge as a regional gas hub for states in its immediate vicinity, throughout the post-Nabucco era. For one thing, it has initiated the establishment of interconnection systems with Turkey, through TAP, ITGI and Turkish Stream, Bulgaria, through IGB, and the Eastern Mediterranean, through the homonymous pipeline project, conjured up to transport Israeli, Egyptian, Cyprus, and, at some point, Lebanese, gas towards Italy, and even towards IGB, providing political and security challenges are overcome. It has also moved forward with the development of LNG-related facilities. And, last but not least, it has opened previously dormant frontier offshore hydrocarbon exploration in the Ionian Sea and Crete, in order to unlock potential indigenous resources. Whether or not adjacent countries of Turkey and Bulgaria will discern inherent advantages from a strategic energy partnering with Greece in favor of the European rhetoric on supply diversification, remains to be seen but it is evident that Caspian supplies together with potential US LNG will enhance the energy security of Europe, especially the areas of Europe that are heavily dependent on a single supplier.
Download the full brief here: CPC SPECIAL BRIEF: ROLE OF THE US AND CASPIAN NATURAL GAS EXPORTS FOR EUROPEAN ENERGY SECURITY AND DIVERSIFICATION