Hungary and Slovakia linked their natural gas pipeline networks yesterday (27 March) as part of European Union efforts to strengthen supply security in a region of the bloc that relies heavily on imports from Russia.
The connection of the two grids in the Hungarian town of Szada, 28 km northeast of Budapest, will allow flows to be reversed so that Hungary, rather than import gas from Russia, can bring it from alternative sources in Europe.
A new 111 km pipeline with annual capacity of about 5 billion cubic metres a year (bcm/y), stretching from the Hungarian town of Vecses to Velke Zlievce in Slovakia, is due to become operational from 2015.
Hungary, which imports about 80% of its gas from Russia and the Hungary-Slovak interconnector, is part of the North-South Corridor, an EU project aimed at reducing dependence on eastern imports.
"This pipeline creates the opportunity for us to import gas from outside Russia in future," Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told a news conference, also addressed by his Slovak counterpart Robert Fico, at a construction site.
The Slovak transmission system's operator, Eustream, said on Thursday it had completed Slovakia's section of the pipeline, which was already filled with gas at operating pressure.
The countries expect to start testing the new interconnector in July, Fico said.
Eustream said that in the future, the interconnector would give Slovakia access to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Croatia.
"It will provide Slovakia with access to the planned southern gas corridor or LNG terminal in Croatia. Hungary will get a new approach to the West European gas networks," Eustream said in a statement.
Building new links and upgrading infrastructure gained renewed focus in the EU, following a contract dispute between Moscow and Kyiv in 2009 that stopped gas flows via Ukraine to much of central and southeastern Europe in the middle of winter.
Central and eastern European countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Austria have all made recent strides to build new gas links with each other.
For now, the chief supply security advantage is that the completed section of the future corridor will allow Russian gas to be imported via different routes, as it cannot, as yet, be used to link to alternative suppliers.
"The security (of supply) aspect is the most important, as this pipeline gives additional access to Russian gas," said Tamas Pletser, analyst at Erste Bank in Budapest. "At this moment, it does not lead to diversification of our imports."
However, a Polish-Slovak link with a capacity of up to 5 billion bcm/y will be completed in 2017 as part of an eventual proposed pipeline stretching from northern Poland to Croatia.
This would access supply both from Poland's new LNG terminal on the Baltic and the planned LNG terminal on Croatia's island of Krk.
- 26-27 June: EU summit will discuss Commission's proposals for reducing energy dependence from Russia