As some in Europe won Turkish support this week for the Nabucco gas pipeline, the spotlight is once again on those closing ranks, chyming in and pointing fingers in the politics of pipelines.
With the prime ministers of Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania signing up fellow transit country Turkey on Monday, a hurdle was cleared in what those who would benefit from Nabucco say is a lifeline to replace “unreliable” Russian supplies. Machiavellian geopolitics never go away, and CNN — which, through Time Warner sits on the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations — repeated the knock on "unreliable" Russian gas through the “noise” of our times’s information super-highway.
Though the industry needs every pipeline project possible, and International Energy Agency director Nabuo Tanaka was shown on CNN saying pipelines help consumers, the trumpeting of some projects and the trashing of others continues in Brussels, London and Washington.
The Nabucco line is an $8 billion, 3,000-kilometre undertaking from Azeri and ostensibly Iranian fields that’ll begin by crossing earthquake-prone Turkey before traversing the anchor-ploughed Bosporous on its way through the Eastern Balkans to a wealth centre north of Vienna. No gas is expected before 2014, when large Caspian fields are expected to produce export volumes.
Nabucco’s “rival” is Russia’s South Stream pipeline from the Caspian region across Bulgaria, northern Greece and onwards to the heel of Italy. Though not under the West’s boot like the Russo-German Nord Stream pipeline planned for the Baltic Sea, South Stream could face played politics over its Black Sea route, although tanker anchors and severe earthquakes are less an area problem.
While a recent explosion in a Turkmenistan pipeline carrying Russian gas is another “example” of Russian supply disruptions, tensions between 1990’s belligerents Azerbaijan and Armenia and local power Turkey and its Kurds have never fully subsided. And although supply disruptions, explosions and fire rocked the British-backed Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline recently, supply was never declared "unreliable".
In Nabucco versus South Stream, shades of Nord Stream versus Skanled appear. In the latter, Sweden and Baltic States geopolitics have given plans for sub-sea gas to Northern Europe a queer red card — an environment card — although the best Western experts and technology are behind Nord Stream, and tanker anchors and earthquakes are not what they are crossing the Bosporous.
Skanled, a plan for a new pipeline from Norway to southwest Sweden and Denmark has been shelved, at least while Sweden “processes” Nord Stream’s environmental impact statements.
Meanwhile, rich Barents Sea and Siberian resources await what should be a profitable northern pipeline for all involved, much like the promise of Nabucco.