„Anstatt die zehn Staats- und Regierungschef wie ursprünglich gedacht zu vereinen, verkam [eine Nabucco-Konferenz in Georgien am 14. Januar] zu einer bloßen Expertenrunde, die zu keinen Entscheidungen oder praktischen Ergebnissen führte“, beschwert sich Tatjana Mitrova, Leiterin des Zentrums für Studien zum Internationalen Energiemarkt beim Energieforschungsinstitut der Russischen Akademie der Wissenschaft, in einem an EURACTIV übermittelten Januarpapier.
Tatjana Mitrova is head of the Centre for International Energy Market Studies at the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
„On 14 January, the Georgian city of Batumi hosted an energy conference, originally planned as a inter-governmental summit, with attendees from Eastern European, Central Asian and Caspian countries. The meeting served to discuss prospects of energy supplies from the Caspian region to Europe. Participants particularly focused on the so-called ‚Southern Corridor‘ project, an effort to give the EU access to alternative energy resources, other than those from Russia, Norway and Northern Africa. The Nabucco gas pipeline was the flagship project of this initiative.
It is interesting that Russian representatives were not invited to the meeting, but instead Washington was invited to dispatch a delegation. Amongst the participating nations, only three are energy producers for the Southern Corridor, namely Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Turkey hesitated to attend, in spite of the fact that its unique geographical position bestows the country a pivotal role in the concept of the Southern Corridor.
What is most astonishing about the conference is not the particular mix of participants, but its display of sustained interest in problematic projects such as Nabucco, in the middle of a financial crisis. Recently, doubts have grown about where the pipeline could source the 30 billion cubic metres of gas which it needs every year to be profitable. According to the latest statements of the senior management of the German energy major and Nabucco partner RWE, the pipeline will have to rely on three remaining gas suppliers, namely Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Northern Iraq.
Political tensions and uncertainties cast serious doubts about the potential of Iraq to emerge as a reliable supplier any time soon. Azerbaijan recently succeeded in diversifying its exports, by expanding its customer base beyond Turkey and Georgia to Russia and Iran. Gas supplies to Russia do not require any additional investments in infrastructure, which makes this business deal very attractive for Baku, particularly in combination with a commercial contract that does not set any upwards cap on exports.
With regard to Turkmenistan, one cannot avoid the impression that this country will not be in a position to contribute much to Nabucco. Because of last year’s production slump, Ashgabat decided to suspend 150 production sites, a step which cannot be undone quickly. Most experts estimate that it will take until 2013 before the country can reach the production levels of 2008 again. Turkmenistan suffered from a comparable situation in the early 1990s, and ever since then has not been able to restore previous production levels.
With the recent inauguration of the gas export pipeline to China, Turkmenistan will be closely bound to its new partner, as it has to guarantee supplies of 30 billion cubic metres of gas annually over a time span of 30 years. The Chinese vector in Ashgabat’s external energy policy will not only be determined by the new pipeline, but also through substantial credit lines. For the development of the South Yolantan gas field, Beijing offered dedicated loans worth four billion US dollars.
In spite of what one could read in various editorials across Europe, gas deliveries from Turkmenistan to China do not present a threat for Russia. On the contrary, they can be seen as a positive development: firstly because they are not destined for the European market and therefore do not increase competition for Russian gas deliveries, and secondly, because they are answering demand in a less favourable market than Europe. One could even argue that the Turkmen gas deliveries to China will pave the way for an expanded Russian-Chinese energy partnership in the future, as this project will allow Beijing to acquire the necessary experience and know-how in international gas trade.
Another important factor in the assessment of the Turkmen export capacities is the resumption of gas flows to Russia, which took place in the last few days. The revised Russian-Turkmen supply contract practically does not leave any room for additional exports to Nabucco. One must assume that both the Turkmen and Russian delegations were aware of this when they signed the new deal.
Currently, Turkmenistan has annual export obligations of 80 to 90 billion cubic metres and must cater for domestic demand of an additional 20 billion cubic meters per year. This means that the annual production should level around 100 billion cubic metres. Ashgabat claims that this number could easily be surpassed. However, over the past few years Turkmenistan did not manage to restore its production levels of 1991 – 76 billion cubic metres – let alone getting anywhere near exceeding these volumes. This means that the Turkmen gas market does not have any spare capacity for additional quantity buyers.
This calculation alone demonstrates that Nabucco rests on feet of clay, without even mentioning unsettled questions such as the funding of the project or the uncertain legal status of the Caspian Sea, which will make it close to impossible to construct the Trans-Caspian supply pipeline that is meant to feed Nabucco. Yet the political summit in Batumi demonstrates that the wish to circumvent Russia seem to take priority over business realities, in spite of the fact that it is clear for everybody that the exclusion of Russia from the Southern Corridor project will massively increase the risks attached to the project.
Maybe this is the reason why the energy conference in Batumi was downgraded at the last moment. Instead of uniting ten heads of state and government, as it was originally foreseen, the meeting degenerated into a mere roundtable of experts, which did not yield any decisions or practical results. Like the last five meetings of this format.“