A recent evaluation of prospects for a revival of the Nabucco West pipeline concludes that it is not feasible in the absence of a Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP) carrying gas from Turkmenistan, presumably crossing Asia Minor through TANAP. To this it may be added that the Nabucco consortium was closed down when the Shah Deniz consortium chose the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) over Nabucco West, and that its former members have gone on to other things. Further, Baku has already guaranteed the supply of 20 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y) of natural gas for the foreseeable future, in the event of the doubling of TAP’s capacity to that level.
The Eastring pipeline project
The markets that the Nabucco and its successor Nabucco West pipelines would have supplied are the same as were targeted by Russia’s South Stream project, which it has morphed into the so-called Turkish Stream project, and which it now proposes to rename again as Greek Stream. South Stream as originally conceived would have run to Baumgarten in Austria for distribution to Central Europe after feeding the national systems of EU members in Southeastern Europe. The Slovakian company Eustream has proposed a new project to take the place of this, called Eastring pipeline.
The Eastring pipeline project proposes an initial volume of 20 bcm/y, which could be doubled in a second stage. It currently has two principal variants. It would start in eastern Slovakia and reach northern Romania through eastern Hungary (or alternatively through western Ukraine using an existing pipeline). In the first variant it would cross Romania in a southeasterly direction to end on the Romaninan-Ukrainian border where an existing pipeline descends from Ukraine into Bulgaria. In the second variant it would cross Romania in a more southerly direction to enter northern Bulgaria, from where it would easily traverse Bulgaria north-south and end on the Turkish border.
The Eastring pipeline vs. Nabucco West and others
The Eastring pipeline project would require only a fraction of the capital expenditure once projected for either the Nabucco (West) or the South (i.e. Turkish) Stream project. Most significant, as a leading member of the Eustream team has mentioned, “the project is expected to be bi-directional in its final stage of implementation and its possibility of delivery of Black Sea gas to the European markets is one of the considered scenarios.” The Eastring pipeline could thus deliver to Southeastern Europe, natural gas from a variety of possible producers, including Turkish transit among which may be counted not least Azerbaijan, which has already elaborated a number of complementary supply projects such as the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector (AGRI) and of course TANAP, which is already under construction.
The Eastring pipeline project is not the only possibility. The so-called Vertical Gas Corridor (VGC) is a project that would run north-south from southern Romania through Bulgaria into Greek Thrace. However, the VGC is just a new name for two old projects put together, the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria-Greece (IGB) and a newer Interconnector Romania-Bulgaria (IRB), plus the modernization of the Bulgarian transmission network.
The EU and the Eastring pipeline project
What is most significant here is that the EU has set up a High Level Group on Central East South European Gas Connectivity (CESEC) including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. CESEC’s purpose is “to improve energy security by accelerating the integration of the region’s infrastructure and diversifying supply sources”, and an action plan of priority infrastructure projects is expected by the beginning of summer. All this suggests that the EU is finally beginning not only to realize its situation as a geopolitical and geo-economic actor in the energy sector but also to take steps in the real world that reflect its particular interests (rather than holding itself out as a bland and universal “exporter of European values”). This development in turn is underlined by the observation of former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek, President of the EU Council in 2009, and who is now in charge of promoting the Eastring pipeline project, that a resolution in its favor would be “more [of a] geopolitical rather than technical” decision.