Turkey as a regional energy hub: Dreams and realities
By its location and geopolitical affiliations Turkey is destined to play a key role in energy transportation projects that are being developed in the region. Political leaders of the country declared many times that Turkey is to become an energy hub, and it has all the chances to do so. Since 2002 the government has proved once and again its ability to deliver what is best for the national economy. And it is important not to make a mistake in these crucial times when international law and order had been brutally violated by unlawful, covert and aggressive actions by the Russian Federation in Ukraine.
It was Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Ankara that stirred a lot of discussions about the future of energy in the Black Sea region and the rest of Europe. First, his announcement that "the South Stream is dead" brought joy to everybody who had been relentlessly trying to explain that this project had no commercial value or economic justification from the very beginning and its sole purpose was to impose political pressure on Ukraine and Europe. Then the announcement came about another project - this time dubbed the Turkish Stream - across the Black Sea to Turkey bringing 14 billion cubic meters (bcm) to the internal market and 50 bcm to the Turkish-Greek border "to be distributed across Europe." Some Russian "experts" consider this to be a "project of the century." The catch is that gas stays Russian until it reaches the EU border, then mystical "European companies" will build pipelines to distribute it throughout Europe. Let us consider those two developments in more details.
Termination of the South Stream
The story began in 2007. Since then Gazprom has spent $4.66 billion on promoting the project and exercising some construction activities solely in Russian territory. Dozens of intergovernmental agreements were signed, permissions were received, companies registered, commercial contracts concluded, pipes ordered and even a ship to build an underwater passage was chartered. On Dec. 7, 2012, an impressive ceremony took place in Anapa where Mr. Putin personally announced the commencement of construction. But as it turned out nothing happened since then except exercising of political pressure on a number of the European states. Now Russia has accused Bulgaria and the European Commission of blocking the project just because the EU had insisted on implementation of the proper EU regulations in its territory - the Third Energy Package. What is less known remains the fact that Russia has never officially asked the European Commission to withdraw the South Stream from the Third Package. Gazprom had no intention to build the South Stream from the very beginning. It was a part of the plan to pressure Ukraine to give up control over its gas transportation system to Russia. Ukraine was very close to undertaking such a decision under former President Viktor Yanukovich, but the Revolution of Dignity brushed it away. Now it is being reported that Mr. Putin's decision to terminate the South Stream came as a complete surprise to his partners. Gazprom had to agree to buy out its European partners BASF/Wintershall, EDF and Eni from the scrapped project. The purchase price reimburses the companies for the cash they invested into the project. BASF also abandoned a gas assets swap deal with Gazprom planned earlier for 2014. The governments of Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and Hungary had to cope with this unexpected move since substantial political capital was invested in the project as well. It is not surprising that Hungary, Serbia and Croatia are among the top five countries in Europe that bought the cheapest natural gas in the first half of 2014 respectively - atop of them are only Romania for its own gas and Turkey.
According to recent statistics, last year Turkey imported 44 bcm of gas. Approximately 60 percent of this amount came from Russia. From every point of view that means a clear over-dependence on one supplier. Therefore, it is quite understandable that Turkey needs good relations with Russia. And yet, those relations have never been simple. In 2011 Turkey refused to prolong a 25-year gas agreement with Russia. Thus, the amount of gas to be delivered by the Western pipeline through Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria decreased. High gas prices, a wrong formula to adjust the price, take-or-pay conditions and problems with peak deliveries were sited among the reasons. The Turkish economy has developed relatively well, even during the crisis, and it needs more energy. Therefore, a decision to increase the supply of gas to Turkey came as no surprise. What constitutes a surprise is that this increase would have to come from Russia and through the Blue Stream. This pipeline built in 2002 is well known in Turkey for its highly expensive gas and corruption scandal surrounding the project prior to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) coming to power in 2002. The Blue Stream had never been utilized to its full capacity even in its most successful year of 2012. Only 14.7 bcm were delivered to Turkey out of a possible 16 bcm. In 2013 it was 13.7 bcm and, now, a 19 bcm agreement is sited in parallel with a ridiculous 6 percent discount in gas prices. But the biggest surprise came when Mr. Putin announced a new idea - to redirect the South Stream to Turkey. Some experts were quick to report that this Turkish Stream pipeline will finally transform Turkey into a European energy hub. But more detailed consideration shows that it will probably not since this project is not going to become a reality. There are many reasons for that. Let me touch upon some of them.
First, estimates show that pipeline construction may cost $10 billion to $13 billion. Gazprom is in dire straits now and nobody will finance this highly controversial project among international lenders. Russia has neither the technologies nor pipes to construct an underwater pipeline in the Black Sea and it is a big question whether Eni will enter into this game in this era of sanctions.
Second, if we even suggest that the pipeline is in place, the announced 50 bcm delivered to the Turkey-Greece border needs a large amount of storage since right now there are neither pipelines nor enough consumers in the region to take over or consume all of the potential gas. Storage is a very interesting issue itself. The European Gas Hub in Baumgarten has a total storage capacity in five countries of 18 bcm. In Germany the total storage capacity is 21 bcm. Total consumption in all of central Europe is not more than 30 bcm per year and new LNG projects in the Baltic Sea will soon bring an additional 7 bcm to 10 bcm of gas to the market. Construction of storage for 1 bcm of gas bears a cost of $400 million to $1 billion depending on technical conditions. Who is going to finance that?
Third, Greece is a similar EU member to Bulgaria. Any project on its territory has to be in line with the energy policy of the EU. The European Commission stated many times that the South Stream is not among its priorities. There are no reasons to believe that the Turkish Stream will do any better. Europe needs diversification of gas supply and the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP)-Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project is exactly what brings alternative gas there. Russia's aggressive foreign policy and politically motivated prices are well-placed among the issues Europe would like to avoid.
Fourth, commercial logic suggests that prior to any step toward the construction of the Turkish Stream the maximum amount of gas has to be contracted, as in case of TANAP. Also, thousands of kilometers of pipelines have to be ready as a delivery and distribution network. Otherwise, no investment decision is possible. It is hard to see how that can become a reality.
Turkey as an energy hub
The Russian proposal has nothing to do with transforming Turkey into an energy hub. Being placed in between the Caspian basin, Iraq, Iran and the Mediterranean, it is hard not to become an energy hub. It is vital for Turkey to ensure that prospective energy routs for gas delivery to Europe are going through its territory. Recently, a comprehensive north-south energy corridor proposal was presented at the Atlantic Council Energy Summit in Istanbul. It completes transformation of European energy infrastructure from a fragile system that could be easily affected by Russia into a stable network of gas suppliers, interconnectors and storage facilities. Turkey is included in this project as well as Ukraine. Accumulating energy resources from Central Asia and the Middle East will make the Turkish dream come true. That is a reality.
On the contrary, the Russian proposal is a pipe dream. It does not matter how sweet it looks, it will not allow Turkey to become an energy hub. Even mere discussion about the possibility of 50 bcm of gas coming to its border with Greece may confuse politicians in many European capitals and delay construction of TANAP, new LNG terminals in Greece and Croatia, interconnectors with Bulgaria, a possible deal with Cyprus and normalization around Iran and Iraq. The only question that remains is whom is Russia going to blame next time, in a couple of years, prior to the announcement that "the Turkish Stream is dead?"