by Antonia Colibășanu
Hubs grow naturally, as they point to an effective center for an activity. The can’t be ‘grown’ as they can’t be invented. It is the need for a hub that creates it as the outcome – and the need usually comes as a solution to a problem. In what regards the energy sector, the most stringent European problem is the dependency on Russian gas. The idea to establish an energy union, while not a new idea for the EU, has become more important as the geopolitical landscape outlined the need for the EU to diminish its dependence on Russian gas. However, this doesn’t ensure, a priori, that political will is attached to the project. It also doesn’t eliminate competition among member states, but increases it – with regard to their proposed projects.
‘Inter-connectors’ is the key word. The more, the better for the EU, as the probability to receive natural gas from other sources than Russia increases. Geographic location becomes an opportunity or a challenge, depending on the country’s imperatives and the regional constraints. While countries like Greece, Slovakia or Bulgaria see the business of energy transit as an opportunity for economic growth, countries like Romania or Turkey see it as a must, a need to support the country’s development. For them it is an imperative to develop energy infrastructure.
Turkey needs to fuel its growing industrial consumption and therefore Ankara must maintain and develop the country’s energy infrastructure. Romania is one of the least dependent countries in the EU on Russian gas, as the internal production covers for about 80% of the national consumption. Prospects for Bucharest are encouraging, taking into account the successful drilling in the Black Sea: the Neptune Block is estimated to hold between 42-84bcm of natural gas and the EX30 Trident is estimated at 30bcm. Considering the current conditions – the low oil price coupled with a high cost of drilling, as most of Romanian onshore fields are mature and depleting and the offshore ones require specific technologies, market access becomes key to attract and maintain investors’ interest. Romania’s push to support the creation of proper infrastructure linking it to the European market is more than a sought opportunity – but the need to solve a problem: that of maintaining and increasing its economic security, while continuing to diminish dependence on Russian gas.
While Turkey will seek to revive the Turkish Stream and make the most of its recently established relations with Israel, Romania – an EU member state, is building itself into an energy hub as well. The Romanian natural gas transport system operator Transgaz has managed to ensure 40% of the financing needs for the BRUA Corridor pipeline, connecting through a set of reverse-flow interconnectors Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria. This is the only project enabling gas transmission from the Southern Corridor, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Greece towards Austria. BRUA will have 1.5 bcm/y capacity to Bulgaria and 4.4 bcm/y to Hungary. An additional pipeline will be built in order to bring natural gas from the Black Sea into BRUA, creating the needed market conditions for the offshore investors. As the first EU project to connect Central Europe to South-Eastern Europe, its merit is that, while making use of the existing infrastructure, it can deliver gas both from the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (once operational) and from the Austrian Baumgarten gas. Compared to other EU projects, because it is based on current infrastructure, it is leaving only additional compressor stations and few pipeline segments to be built, being less expensive and flexible.
Romania is also working on improving the Eastern borderline related infrastructure. The Ukrainian natural gas transmission system operator Ukrtransgaz and the Romania’s Transgaz signed on July 21 the Interconnection Agreement for the Interconnection Point ‘Isaccea’ located at the Ukrainian – Romanian border near Orlovka, Ukraine and near Isaccea, Romania. Considering the Romanian-Bulgarian interconnection, this announcement is referring to another supply route, thus supporting diversification, while also relating to increasing interconnectivity in Central and Eastern Europe. This is just another leg of the regional economic security foundation. This interconnection agreement allows for bi-directional gas flows from Ukraine to Greece – even if works are still needed to put it in practice.
Another strategic project that Romania is working on is building on is the natural gas interconnector with Moldova, as the already built Iasi-Ungheni pipeline needs to become fully functional. The Romanian-Moldova intergovernmental bilateral group members met on July 27 to discuss specific steps moving forward. Romania and Moldova are also discussing developing the electricity grids interconnections in addition to establishing natural gas supply alternatives. While these are complex projects, of strategic nature, they are also meant to provide better business opportunities and create a more integrative environment for both sides, considering Romania’s status of regional energy supplier.
While Romania’s actions are not usually publicly ambitious and the slow-motion attempts to build on its strategic position in the region have been the target for criticism coming from the energy sector’s operators – as they saw Bucharest not bringing enough incentives for investors – steps taken have been firm. A relatively new member of the EU, Romania still learns to deal with Brussels while Brussels still learns on the opportunities the member state brings to the Union as a borderlands country in the East. More, the fragmentation tendencies within the EU, coupled with the socio-economic crisis the Union currently struggles with, are likely to negatively affect the funding that Romania receives for structural development projects. But Romania’s posture regionally, considering the opportunities in the energy sector (but not limited to it), is to raise due to the need to find solutions to imperative strategic questions. Considering its geographic location, building on the foundation for the country’s energy security, Romania is actually building on the European energy security foundation.