Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nabucco Reduced to Rump Project

With the announcement of the proposed Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) in December 2011, Nabucco has recreated itself as a pipeline proposal that begins at Turkey's western border.  Instead of being the European Union's premier pipeline project in the Southern Energy Corridor, it is now a regional competitor to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and the Interconnector Turkey Greece Italy (ITGI).

The weakness of the original Nabucco proposal could never be overcome:  there was no source for the natural gas that the pipeline was supposed to carry.  In January Sergey Pravosudov, Director of the Russian Institute of National Resources, said, "Europe has long been discussing supply alternatives.  However, nothing is being done in their main project Nabucco.  Europeans themselves admit that the more time passes the fewer chances remain to breathe life into Nabucco."

Because of this inaction, Turkey decided it could not wait for the European actors to get their act together, and Azerbaijan did not want their market to be limited to Russia.  According to a report in Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official stated, "With the economic slowdown that will reflect in the use of natural gas, Europe put the breaks on."  A Turkish Energy Ministry official added, "Azerbaijan wanted to sell the gas that it will produce from Shah Deniz 2 gas fields.  It did not want to sell it to Russia and did not have the time to wait for the EU to decide."  Azerbaijani parliamentarian Valeh Alasgarov characterized Europe's approach as indifference.  "No one takes care of this project," he said.  The result was TANAP, an abridged Nabucco to carry 16 bcm of natural gas from the fields.  Turkey would consume 6 bcm themselves, and pass 10 bcm to its Western border for onward movement to Europe.

Mark Adomanis, a contributor to Forbes magazine, declared Nabucco a failure.  As a project to demonstrate European unity against Russian energy policy, the pipeline showed the European Union as "almost comically incompetent and incapable."  Adomanis noted that in 2012 Gazprom was arguably more deeply entrenched in Europe than it ever had been.  Jamestown Foundation's Vladmir Socor noted that while the Nabucco shareholders would never leave the consortium, there were chinks in the armor.  German shareholder RWE was making overtures to TANAP, and the Turkish government (owner of the shareholder Botas) was prioritizing TANAP which was "easier to implement" than Nabucco. Hungary's MOL went on record that as long as there was no definite source of natural gas supply, no final investment decision could be reached on the project.   Julian Lee, an analyst at the Center for Global Energy Studies, declared the project dead.  "I think that Nabucco in the way that it was originally envisaged as a pipeline running from Turkey's eastern border all the way to probably over.  I don't think that is going to happen.

In April, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller.  Less than a week later, he announced that MOL would leave Nabucco in favor of South Stream.  In an email, they held out hope that they could rejoin a Nabucco in a different format.  MOL cited "uncertain costs and gas sources and, with the current structure and project management, the implementation of the Nabucco project is not secured.  We believe in the South Corridor concept, that could eventually also include a re-considered Nabucco."  

Austrian shareholder OMV began to consider a Bulgaria to Austria version of Nabucco.  It would use the intergovernmental agreements and regulations that had been negotiated for the original Nabucco, and would cost considerably less since the distance would be shorter.  The consortium submitted the modified proposal for a 1,300 km pipeline to the Shah Deniz consortium.  Nabucco's Managing Director Reinhard Mitschek put the best face he could on it:  "We are convinced that we have submitted a competitive and comprehensive proposal...and that this proposal represents a win-win situation for our shareholders and for suppliers alike."  In changing its size, Nabucco West may have lost the support of the EU.  European Commission spokeswoman Marlene Holzner told the press it did not matter whether Nabucco or a rival won, as long as the EU got direct access to the Caspian gas, and that the initial 10 bcm capacity could be increased in the future.

Nabucco's construction costs for a 10 bcm pipeline are now approaching the per kilometer price of the 63 bcm South Stream pipeline, according to Investcafe's Grigory Birt.  Given the convergence in price, he predicted the new Nabucco had little chance for success.  "The lower the capacity of the project, the less profitable that project will be," he said.

While the final decision rests with the Shah Deniz consortium, the question remains if the European Commission will bring enough political pressure to bear to keep Nabucco-West in the game.  The original Nabucco was designed to carry only 5% of the projected natural gas needs of Europe, and Nabucco-West has less than one-third of the original capacity.  The new proposal does little to meet Europe's desire for a modicum of energy independence from Russia.