The importance of gas pipelines for Europe’s energy security - the quarrel over the pipeline projects

Heinz Brill


Since the end of the East-West-Conflict there has been arguing about a new security policy, and with it the problem of inter- and transcontinental “energy security” with “gas pipelines” and their transit has arisen as well. Especially since Russia and Ukraine have quarrelled over gas prices and the EU has been looking for realistic alternatives, transcontinental gas pipelines determine both national and international discussions. Natural gas is a fossil fuel and is becoming more and more important for international energy supply. Although only a limited amount of this substance exists, Europe needs more and more of it. Natural gas is a fossil fuel which has some advantages when compared with natural oil. As the countries which need the most raw materials have the least of it, pipelines and fleets of tankers have to provide some balance. Northern America and Europe - with the exception of Canada and Norway - have exhausted their reserves to a great extent. As far as shares of the market are concerned, China and India are the new competitors. In order to be able to supply the European market with natural gas, natural gas enterprises invest in the development of available backups and new deposits in Europe, Asia and Africa, and at the same time they ensure transport of natural gas across long distances from the fields to the consumers. The European Union has declared a binding energy concept to be one of its strategic targets. Its main point is a well-balanced cross-Europe energy mix. The national interests, however, are too different at the moment for implementing this concept. As has been proved by the pipeline projects “North Stream” and “South Stream”, so far only single nations have pushed the real big projects. Germany supports the Baltic Sea pipeline and Italy supports South Stream. In spite of the permanent concern of many EU representatives about a too great dependence on Russia, this does not apply to individual states. Apart from the development of new sources alternative transport possibilities will be necessary for meeting the EU’s increasing demand for natural gas. “Liquid Natural Gas” (LNG) offers an essential addition to the pipeline projects as well as the scheduled “Nabucco”-Pipeline of the EU, which is supposed to transfer natural gas especially from the Central-Asian region across Turkey and South-East Europe to the EU. Europe’s biggest LNG-terminal is South Hook in Milford Haven (Great Britain). At the moment about 15 LNG-terminals are in operation in Europe, most of them in Spain. More than 15 further are scheduled or are being built. LNG is an important addition to the natural gas pipeline projects, but it does not represent a competitor. Pipelines will determine the energy map and will remain the basis for Europe’s energy supply in future as well. Due to their geo-economic position they will lead radially from Northern and North-Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Near East and Northern Africa to Europe. According to Reinhard Mitschek, the managing director of the Nabucco gas pipeline in Vienna, the “topic supply security is certainly one of the greatest challenges Europe has to deal with on the energy sector in the following years”.