Monday, May 11, 2009

Nabucco, or is the Great Gas Game turning into a waltz?

It seems as though, whenever things are relatively quiet in the energy world, which they currently seem to be, then all one has to do is type Gazprom into Google search box, and there will be some interesting snippet.

And lo, it appears that Gazprom is looking into a take-over one of the Hungarian gas pipeline networks. Now that is not what the initial part of the post says, where it notes that the Hungarians are switching their gas purchases from a company (RosUkrEnergo) (RUE) that purchased Russian gas through Ukraine, to a company known as Rosgas AG. As part of the fallout from the January dispute between Russia and Ukraine RUE lost that business, and now Hungary has found a new middleman, Rosgas.
The immediate suspicion is that RosGas AG is yet another in a long line of shadowy intermediary companies created by Firtash and Gazprom. However, in the case of RosGas this may mask a possible attempt by Gazprom to cut gas supplies to Firtash's Emfesz, as a precursor to a company takeover - vastly increasing its share of the Hungarian domestic gas distribution network.

This becomes of some importance when one looks at the relative prospects of the two alternate paths for new gas to reach Western Europe – South Stream and Nabucco. South Stream is being increasingly pushed by Gazprom. The pipeline will bring gas under the Black Sea, and pass through Serbia and Slovenia before reaching Austria. However Eni, who is a 50% partner with Gazprom in this stage of its development, is upset that Gazprom is keeping it out of the negotiations with Serbia and Slovenia. Both countries are anticipated to sign agreements with Gazprom in the near future, without Eni, for gas supplies from South Stream.

And this may be where Hungary comes in, since the competing Nabucco pipeline goes through Hungary to get to the Austrian hub. So that if Gazprom controls the Hungarian pipelines, and can stop competitors’ gas flowing through them (a fact they used to get TNK-BP out of the rich Kovytka field after TNK-BP had developed it.) It is yet another couple of nails in the Nabucco coffin.

Earlier this week, with a fanfare celebrating the coming signature of the Nabucco agreement to run gas through the pipeline across Turkey it looked as though the pipeline was moving rather rapidly forward. However, buried within the story is the backing off of European funding
The European Commission is proposing to scale back its support for the Nabucco project to 200 million euros ($268 million) from 250 million euros, Tarradellas said in February. The aid would be channeled through the European Investment Bank.
At the same time, the last paragraph is interesting.
Friday's statement, signed by leaders of the EU, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Egypt, also said the EU and Egypt should "agree on specific projects in developing Egypt's gas reserves and export potential for the EU." It said it was signed "in the presence of the representatives of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan."The statement also called for a memorandum of understanding on energy between the EU and Iraq "as soon as possible." Barroso said a preliminary energy accord with Iraq was "imminent."
There are nuggets in that paragraph – first the pipeline cannot be effective without the gas from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. But none of them signed the document. Further Azerbaijan does not think that the project is feasible without Turkmenistan. The Turks will get paid for their trouble
The Turkish government has been driving a hard bargain, insisting on collecting a "tax" on the gas being pumped and demanding 15 percent of the transit gas at discounted prices. These requests have been rejected by the European Commission, the executive branch of the 27-nation bloc, delaying the 9 billion-euro project. More than half of the pipeline is to be located in Turkey.
But getting them on board helps negate the pressure that Russia (read Gazprom) is applying to discourage the “stans” from selling Nabucco their gas.

So as steps in the Great Game you could say that Europe took the first by planning Nabucco, then Russia took the second by stopping an adequate supply availability through pressure on Turkmenistan etc. Europe now gets the third, since with the pipeline running through Turkey they can (if politics allows) run connections into Iran, Egypt and Iraq. And before the step is completed Russia moves to step on their toes and gain control of the Hungarian section, thereby taking the fourth.

With Austria involved, maybe this part of the game is turning into a waltz – but with constantly changing partners - we shall see.

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