It’s the energy security, as well as the economic growth and the fight against unemployment, the most urgent priority of the European Union for the years to come. And the secret to win this challenge lies in the possibility to diversify the sources of supply from which the EU countries import oil and gas[1]. Only through diversification prices may be lower and supplies stable[2], safe from deliberate interruptions due to political decisions.

For this reason, the European Union launched a program aiming to better connect the internal energy market and develop new infrastructures in order to achieve its political objectives in the energy branch[3]. The transboundary interconnection of energy supplies should be granted by the TEN-E (Trans European Energy Networks), a series of projects involving five gas corridors. Part of the TEN-E is the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) which also includes the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).

In 2003 an international holding began a feasibility study, ended in 2006, for a pipeline linking Italy, Albania and Greece to the Trans-Anatolia Pipeline Gas (TANAP), which should bring Azeri gas of Shah Deniz field through Turkey to Greece. TAP AG, the consortium that currently includes seven international energy companies[4], and that is entrusted for the realization of the pipeline, has recently received the approval of the Italian Ministry of the Environment and foresees to begin the laying of pipes in 2016. The pipeline should be 870 km long, of which 105 km offshore[5]. On its way, there should be three compression stations and a storage facility, likely in Albania.

TAP should connect the Greek city of Kipoi and San Foca in Melendugno, a beautiful shore in Salento, one of the most attractive tourist destination in Southern Italy. The opposition of the local committees, moved by a NIMBY[6] syndrome which is promoting a change in the destination of the pipeline[7], also intersects the scepticism of some scholars and political observers.

What has to be taken into account is the great consensus that TAP generated between the governments and the European Commission, especially for the intense lobbying activity the consortium implemented[8]. Of course the crisis in Ukraine raised again a request of energy security, the necessity to decrease dependency on Moscow, and South-eastern European countries don’t want to lose the opportunity to find a way to gain access to alternative sources of gas.

But how much substantial will be the impact of TAP on these countries energy markets? In a recent interview[9], Michael Hoffman, External Affairs Director of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, confirmed that the gas sales agreements for the first 10 bcm (billion cubic meters) of Caspian gas have already been signed in Baku for buyers in Greece, Bulgaria[10] and Italy. Given that Italy alone imports about 25 bcm of natural gas via pipeline from Russia in a year[11], it is not clear if these single buyers will decide to sell part of the amount of gas provided by the Shah Deniz field via TAP. So, the priority is that Azeri gas reaches Europe, and then the market will decide where it flows within Europe. In this perspective, Trans Adriatic Pipeline looks like a first step which cannot make a significant difference for European energy security.

Countries supplied by TAP, as well, rather than just being recipients, can facilitate the flow of gas to other destinations, such as Switzerland and Germany, but also France and Benelux, acting as strategic hubs. Turkey, for example, has serious ambitions in serving as energy hub in a complex geopolitical scenario set between the tumultuousness of both Caucasus and Middle East[12]. At the same time, Turkey could decide to use Caspian gas for domestic consumption and satisfy the internal demand of energy related to the current growth of the country. In other words, TAP could be a litmus test to understand the role Erdogan’s Turkey wants to play.

More energy security, more competition among the operators and the consequent price reductions are undeniable benefits for countries and individual users. TAP, however, as well as other transboundary energy infrastructure, also needs to be part of a wider political plan that does not create further tensions. Russia’s energy superpower seems the most imminent threat for EU countries that are trying, with the TEN-E, to take care of their own national interests but it’s necessary that the measures taken are truly effective.

 

 


[1]Winston Churchill, at that time First Lord of the Admiralty, defined certainty and safety in oil (but the same is true for gas supplies) as lying only in variety of supplies. See D. Yergin (2006), Ensuring Energy Security, “Foreign Affairs”, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 69-82.

[2]These are the parameters involved in the definition of energy security released by the International Energy Agency and considered valid by many scholars.

[3]Sustainability and diversification.

[4]The Norwegian Statoil, the English BP, the Azeri SOCAR, the Belgian Fuxys, the French Total, the Swiss AXPO Holding and the German E.ON Ruhrgas.

[5] [http://www.tap-ag.com/the-pipeline/route-map]. See the official website of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline: www.tap-ag.com.

[6] “Not in my backyard”.

[7]D. Palmiotti (2014), Gasdotto Tap, oggi i sindaci del Salento in Regione Puglia: alternativa a San Foca, “Il Sole24Ore”, 30th September [http://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/impresa-e-territori/2014-09-30/gasdotto-tap-oggi-sindaci-salento-regione-puglia-alternativa-san-foca-090505.shtml?uuid=ABZOYWyB].

[8]Former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was appointed as adviser for the consortium. See J. Doward (2014), Tony Blair will advise on controversial gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to Italy, “The Guardian”, 2nd August [http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/02/tony-blair-gas-pipeline-italy].

[9]Anon. (2014), Interview with Michael Hoffmann: TAP’s Role in European Energy Security, “Tukish Policy Quarterly”, Vol. 13, No. 2, 4th September [http://www.turkishpolicy.com/dosyalar/files/vol_13-no_2-hoffman.pdf].

[10]Bulgaria will be connected to the TAP by the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB).

[11]BP Statistical Review of World Energy, p. 28.

[12]Fatih Özgür Yeni (2013), Thinking beyond TAP: Turkey’s Role in the Southern Energy Corridor, “IAI Working Papers”, Vol. 13, No. 32, November.