Turkey caught between Nabucco and South Stream


Rival gas pipeline projects Nabucco and South Stream are seeking Turkey's support. But it would not be in Ankara's interest to decide between one or the other, said energy expert Roland Götz. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Following the accident at Japanese nuclear power plant Fukushima, growing scepticism towards nuclear energy is bound to lead to a rise of gas imports in the EU, Götz told the Berlin press earlier this week.

Consequently, despite improvements in energy efficiency and new methods of transport, the EU will be even more dependent on gas imports in 20 years' time than it is today, the energy expert predicted.

In this context, Götz said that Turkey, which is key to both Nabucco and South Stream gas pipeline projects (see 'Background'), wants a bigger role, not just as a gas transit country, but as one that is able "to dictate" pipeline plans in order to secure the highest possible profit for itself.

Officially, the country supports both projects, but it would be in Ankara's interest to exploit its position to become a hub for trade in gas, he believes.

Götz said Turkey actually had no interest in making a decision right now, which is why its tactics were to procrastinate.

The expert said Turkey had little interest in the South Stream project, in which it would play the role of a mere transit country and collect transit tax.

But if Turkey were to actually buy gas from Azerbaijan, it could transport it through its existing pipeline network and sell it to a shorter version of the Nabucco pipeline, which would begin at Turkey's Western borders, he said.

Götz indicated that the Nabucco project was facing difficulties. EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger had announced a decision on Nabucco for 2011. However, such a decision was already expected in 2010, he recalled.

The expert was critical of Oettinger's political push for Nabucco, which entailed the risk that the project's failure would bring about "a great disappointment". Normally a pipeline project would be financed by gas providers and buyers, but Nabucco is to be financed by a pure pipeline consortium, Götz complained.

"This new concept is not working out," Götz said. "The European Commission is a bureaucracy, and it is not their task to decide on a pipeline project. I find this approach problematic."

Nabucco and South Stream are seen as competing projects and have similar timeframes for beginning and completing construction.

South Stream is a Russia-sponsored planned natural gas pipeline. Once completed, the pipeline will run under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, with one branch going to Greece and Italy, and another to Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria. Its planned capacity is 63 billion cubic metres per year (bcm/y).

The key partner for Russia's Gazprom in the South Stream project is Italy's largest energy company, ENI.

Another pipeline in the project phase, Nabucco, does not enjoy the favour of Russian state monopoly Gazprom. It widely resembles South Stream, but is intended to diversify the EU's pool of supplier countries, bringing gas to Europe from the Caucasus and the Middle East to a gas hub in Austria, via Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.

The construction of the pipeline is expected to start in 2011 and the first gas is expected to flow in 2014. The pipeline will carry 31 billion cubic metres of gas per year, but this maximum capacity will only be reached in 2018.

The Nabucco consortium comprises leading European energy companies from Austria, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.

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