Russia has accelerated the implementation of its South Stream gas pipeline project with Gazprom signing agreements in Central and Southeast Europe like they're going out of style.
On 31 October, the Russian gas giant and Hungarian electricity company MVM agreed to build Hungary's 229-kilometre section of South Stream.
Russia’s agreement with Hungary is the second announced final investment decision for a section of South Stream. On 29 October, Serbia’s state gas utility Srbijagas also reached an agreement with Gazprom, and Bulgaria is expected to sign an agreement on South Stream on 9 November.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the acceleration of South Stream. Gazprom plans to start the construction of the underwater section of the gas pipeline in December.
But so far, Russia has kept the European Union in the dark about details of the South Stream project. “For the moment we have not seen a plan for South Stream,” European Commission energy spokeswoman Marlene Holzner told New Europe by phone on 30 October. “We take note of all the media reports but neither our experts nor [EU Energy] Commissioner [Gunther] Oettinger have seen a plan where it says South Stream will start here, it will deliver gas to this entry point and it will go exactly following this route and it will deliver gas from Russia. We have not seen this,” she added, asked if the Commission was worried about the acceleration of South Stream.
The spokeswoman explained that the EU requires time-consuming environmental impact assessment studies before the construction of any such large scale infrastructure project. “It’s good to talk about acceleration but for starting a project in an EU Member State you need an environmental impact assessment. For that you need at least one-to-two years and that has not been done,” Holzner said. “We have not seen any route so we can just take note of what is reported in the media. But in terms of what we have got, I mean we have not received anything so far,” the EU energy spokeswoman said.
The European Commission’s position on South Stream has not changed. “Of course we welcome any new pipeline that delivers gas to Europe, but we prefer to have a new source of supply. That’s why we’re in discussions with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to get gas from there,” she said.
Holzner said the EU counts on Azerbaijan to make good on its promise to deliver 10bn cubic metres of gas per year to Europe but she added that it’s up to Baku to choose between Nabucco and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). She said Brussels equally supports both projects which have priority over South Stream. “If you get gas from Azerbaijan – and we count on that because Azerbaijan has promised substantial amounts of gas and that could be around 10 bcm per year – then we would not only have additional amounts of gas and a new pipeline coming to Europe, but it would also be a country where we did not get gas directly before,” she said, adding that the Commission’s priority is to have a new supplier – a new partner – that would deliver additional gas to Europe.
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