Europe Can Survive Without Russian Gas

by Anirban Paul - Dec 29, 2014 11:14 AM
Europe Can Survive Without Russian Gas

There are pipelines being built, there are new gas strikes, from Israel to Cyprus. But what is needed is some extremely intelligent and careful diplomacy.

Due to Hollywood’s odd obsession with the oil industry, many movies rich in conspiracy theories do get made, George Clooney’s Syriana being just one example. Possibly due to such works of popular fiction, geopolitical events where one of the actors is an oil-rich state get to become a useful petridish for conspiracy theories. It’s through that prism that we should view the many theories – the recent oil price slump was engineered to rap Vladimir Putin.

Simple explanations such as demand and supply match do not have the same capacity to catch attention, even if they are true. That being said, for a long-term solution to vulnerabilities in Europe’s eastern end, it’d be necessary to find a solution for Europe’s dependency on Russian oil.

Other than this military dimension, there is also an energy dimension to the threat from Russia. Europe is dependent on the Russian gas that comes through Ukraine. Ukraine itself is susceptible to pressures from Russia as 60% of Ukraine’s consumed gas comes from Russia. The picture below illustrates the pipelines:

Europe Can Survive Without Russian Gas

In the aftermath of the oil crisis in the 1970s, the US Congress banned exporting petroleum with the Jones Act. US is no longer facing supply shortages—due to developments in fracking. The US administration could work with the Congress to lift the ban, repeal the Jones Act and also release oil from strategic petroleum reserves in case of an emergency. In case of an emergency in Europe, LNG can be sent from the US. But, LNG is prohibitively expensive, and is not a long-term solution. There could be other policy options.

British Petroleum (BP) is currently developing a gas pipeline to supply to Southern Europe; the map is here to illustrate . The new “Southern corridor” aims to transport Shah Deniz gas from the Caspian Sea across 3,500 kilometers to Italy. Europe requires enhancement of some existing infrastructure and development of a chain of new pipelines. The pipeline has three components:

  1. South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP) will be expanded with a new parallel pipeline across Azerbaijan and Georgia .
  2. In Turkey, Shah Deniz gas will be transported through a new Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) .
  3. In Europe, Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will be built to take gas through Greece and Albania to Italy.
Europe Can Survive Without Russian Gas

As the gas reaches Italy, the challenge is to have this alternative supply source reach Germany in case of a crisis. Even now, there are pipelines from Russia and Ukraine to Western Europe including Germany. So, if gas from Italy reaches Germany, existing Ukraine–Germany and Ukraine-East Europe pipelines can be utilized to assist Ukraine and East Europe.

A new TGL pipeline is being built from Italy to Germany that has a  length of 180 miles (290km), with expected commissioning in 2018. This new pipeline can transmit any new gas supply that at least reaches Italy. The US should work with respective governments and companies to expedite the TGL pipeline. This is what the pipeline should look like:

Europe Can Survive Without Russian Gas

Gas has been struck in the Leviathan field in Israel. Israel is in negotiations with Turkey to transmit it to Europe.  The new TANAP pipeline can be used to transmit the gas in Turkey. From Turkey, the TAP pipeline can be used to transmit the gas to Italy.

Gas has also been struck in Greece and Cyprus.  Some estimates show the total amount of reserves in Israel, Cyprus and Greece would suffice for the exclusive feeding of the 27 member states for around 20 years .  Turkey has already expressed support for a US-backed, UN-brokered resolution of Cypriot Greek-Turk division considering the new gas find; diplomatic efforts to expedite a solution to the Cyprus problem picked up just after the Ukraine crisis broke in early 2014. The gas finds from Cyprus and Greece can be brought to Italy with the planned IGI-Poseidon pipeline . Then the gas can be brought to Germany with the TGL pipeline.

Probably, creative diplomatic efforts would be needed to arrive at a solution for the Cyprus problem. Even a stalwart like the late Richard Holbrooke tried but could not find a solution there. Cyprus, not without reasons, is called a diplomat’s graveyard. But the huge gas deposits may have some potential. It’s possible that a creative approach such as “flexible sovereignty” could be attempted. Flexible sovereignty had one success, in the Peru-Ecuador crisis. But that region is generally less volatile. As the recovery from the Eurozone crisis is still fragile, it could be possible for the EU and the US to get together with Turkey, Greece and Cyprus to find a solution—a fragile Eurozone may see a lot of benefits.

References next page

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