The Southern Gas Corridor on which the European Union is pinning most of its hopes for natural gas supply diversification away from Russia is coming along nicely and will not just be on schedule, but it will come with a price tag that is US$5-billion lower than the original budget, BP’s vice president in charge of the project told S&P Global Platts this week.
"Often these kinds of mega-projects fall behind schedule. But the way the projects have maintained the schedule has meant that your traditional overspend, or utilization of contingency, has not occurred," Joseph Murphy said, adding that savings had been the top priority for the supermajor.
The Southern Gas Corridor will carry natural gas from the Azeri Shah Deniz 2 field in the Caspian Sea to Europe via a network of three pipelines: the Georgia South Caucasus Pipeline, which was recently expanded and can carry 23 billion cubic meters of gas; the TANAP pipeline via Turkey, with a peak capacity of 31 billion cubic meters annually; and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, or TAP, which will link with TANAP at the Turkish-Greek border and carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Italy.
TANAP was commissioned in July this year and the first phase of TAP is expected to be completed in two years, so Europe will hopefully have more non-Russian gas at the start of the new decade. But not that much, at least initially: TANAP will operate at an initial capacity of 16 billion cubic meters annually, of which 6 billion cubic meters will be supplied to Turkey and the remainder will go to Europe. In the context of total natural gas demand of 564 billion cubic meters in 2020, according to a forecast from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies released earlier this year, this is not a lot.
Yet at some point the TANAP will reach its full capacity and hopefully by that time, TAP will be completed. Surprisingly, it was the branch to Italy that proved the most challenging, and BP’s Murphy acknowledged that. While Turkey built TANAP on time to the surprise of the project operator, TAP has been struggling because of legal issues and uncertainty after the new Italian government entered office earlier this year.
At the time, the government of Giuseppe Conte said the pipeline was pointless but, said Murphy, since then he has accepted the benefits the infrastructure would offer, such as transit fees. And yet local opposition in southern Italy remains strong but BP still sees first deliveries of gas through Italy in 2020.
The BP executive admitted that at first the Southern Gas Corridor wouldn’t make a splash.
"The 10 Bcm/year into Europe is not a game-changer from a volume point of view, but it is a game-changer from a new source of product into mainland Europe perspective and it can be expanded."
Meanwhile, however, Russia and Turkey are building another pipeline, Turkish Stream, that will supply gas to Turkey and Eastern Europe, as well as possibly Hungary. The two recently marked the completion of its subsea section. Turkish Stream will have two lines, each able to carry up to 15.75 billion cubic meters. One will supply the Turkish market and the other European countries.
In this context, the Southern Gas Corridor seems to have more of a political rather than practical significance for the time being, giving Europe the confidence that it could at some future point import a lot more Caspian gas because the infrastructure is there.