The European Union’s ban on Russian oil that goes into effect on Monday has prompted Greece and Bulgaria to discuss the long-overdue revival of an oil pipeline that crosses the Bosphorus Strait.
The pipeline will run a distance of 280km (about 174 kilometers) from the port of Alexandroupolis on the Aegean Sea to the port of Burgas on the Black Sea, and may continue north to the port of Constanza in Romania, Bulgaria’s Minister of Energy Roman Hristov told Al. Jazeera.
“We have two mock years [from EU sanctions] to buy Russian oil, but later, we will face problems due to the increase in fees to the Bosphorus,” Hristov said in response to Al Jazeera’s question at an energy conference in Athens.
Therefore, we have started to discuss the revival of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis bombardment, and its extension to the north to the ports of Varna and Constanza,” he added.
“We are supporting the project,” Greek Energy Minister Kostas Skrekas said in a statement. None of the ministers agreed to answer other questions.
The EU’s move disrupts tanker trade from Russia’s oil hub Novorossiysk on the east coast of the Black Sea to EU ports on its west coast.
Refineries in Burgas and Constanza can still buy oil from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
The Kazakh pipeline terminates at the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) Terminal near Novorossiysk, and the Azeri pipeline terminates at Supsa in southern Georgia.
But it is not enough to meet their needs, especially when Ukraine’s interests are taken into account.
This deficit is filled by additional volumes from other sources that are sent to the Black Sea through the Bosphorus Strait.
The original idea for the Burgas-Alexandroupoli pipeline, first floated in 1993, was to flow south, sending crude oil from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and beyond.
“The main problem was delays and roadblocks. This is easy to deal with pipelines,” said Mike Myrianthis, a veteran of the Greek oil industry who was involved in the project at the time.
“We wanted to cooperate with a major producer to get a long-term… There was a very good relationship with Russia at that time,” he told Al Jazeera. “I remember we were talking about a second parallel pipeline.”
In 2007, Greece, Bulgaria and Russia signed a political agreement to build the pipeline, with Russia promising to provide 35,000-50,000 tons of oil per year to fill it.
The 650,000-ton oil farm in Alexandroupolis ensures constant availability of ships.
But Bulgaria abandoned the project in 2010, citing environmental concerns. Industry officials tell Al Jazeera that it was the US’s opposition to dependence on Russian oil that hampered the project.
But Russia will not benefit from a pipeline to the north, and the idea has gained new momentum with Western sanctions on Russian oil, which the International Energy Agency considers sustainable.
Last October, Turkey added to the pipeline’s interest rate when it raised the toll on tankers using the Bosphorus Strait fivefold to $4 per ton of oil, adding nearly half a percent to current oil prices.
Turkey will raise its investment from $40m to $200m a year, according to the Daily Sabah newspaper.
Turkey has its own plans to cross the Bosphorus, which flows west of it. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed Canal Istanbul amid great fanfare in 2011, but construction has not yet begun.
Until the war in Ukraine, oil and gas pipelines ran south from Russia through Ukraine and the Balkans.
The war in Ukraine has thrown Greece and Turkey into a geopolitical competition, while Alexandroupolis has begun to turn this power, while Turkey is becoming a new route to the south of Russia.
“The idea is to establish a network of gas and oil pipelines from north to south, which will also be strengthened by railways. All these networks should end in Ukraine so that even the country can be supplied from the south,” said Myrianthis.
In this competition, the Greek region of Western Thrace has already become an important passage to the Bosphorus.
The 2019 defense agreement allows the United States to use the port of Alexandroupolis as a starting point for shipping goods and supplies to NATO members Bulgaria and Romania, and weapons to Ukraine itself.
Romania’s border with Moldova and Ukraine is only a day away from Alexandroupolis by rail, faster than crossing the Bosphorus, and more reliable since Turkey announced that it was closing the entire military route in response to the war in Ukraine. .
Last May, Russia cut off gas to Bulgaria, apparently because it refused to pay in rubles.
Greece has become the sole source of gas for Bulgaria, which flows from Azerbaijan through Turkey and northern Greece via the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
The Interconnector Greece Bulgaria (IGB), which has been operating since October, transfers a billion cubic meters per year from TAP to the Bulgarian gas network.
By the end of 2023, Alexandroupolis will get a floating storage and processing unit (FSRU) to import natural gas (LNG), and the IGB pipeline will be extended 28km (about 17 miles) to the south to reach, and also destroy, Russian gas. monopoly in Southeast Europe.
There is talk of a second IGB pipeline being built parallel to the first, as well as two more FSRUs.
Greece-North Macedonia pipeline
Greece is negotiating with North Macedonia to build a separate pipeline to the country.
Greece, which plans to export 8.5 billion cubic meters of gas to the Balkans by 2025, is fast becoming the region’s largest non-Russian gas supplier.
The Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline has added another dimension to its energy security project.
Turkey, too, has gained geopolitical weight as Russian influence is gradually removed from Eastern Europe. Three Russian gas pipelines have already entered Turkey.
At a meeting with Erdogan in Astana, Kazakhstan on October 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he was ready to build a fourth, turning Turkey into an export hub for Russian gas.
“If there is interest in Turkey and our buyers in other countries, [we] “They can consider building another system of gas pipelines and creating a gas plant in Turkey to sell to other countries, to third countries, in particular, to Europe, if they are interested in this,” Putin said. .
Turkey is happy with this project.