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18/10/2006 | RUSSIA, BULGARIA, GREECE- The Pipe Dream Pipeline

Stratfor Staff

Representatives from Russia, Bulgaria and Greece on Oct. 5 agreed on the ownership structure of a piece of a planned pipeline that would bypass the Turkish Straits. They could not have killed the project more effectively if they tried.

 

Prime ministers from Russia, Bulgaria and Greece agreed Oct. 5 to construct an oil pipeline that will ship predominantly Russian oil transported by tanker across the Black Sea from a receiving port at Burgas, Bulgaria, to Alexandroupolis, Greece.

The key rationale for such a line is clear: A great deal of Russian and Caspian crude oil ends up getting loaded onto tankers on the Black Sea, but the sea does not offer easy access to the wider oceans. To reach the Mediterranean, tankers first have to pass through the Turkish Straits, which are too small to accommodate anything but the smallest oil tankers and are certainly too tight a squeeze for supertankers, which generally are the only ships capable of efficiently delivering crude oil to distant destinations such as North America or East Asia. Lines like Burgas-Alexandroupolis are explicitly designed to work around this problem.

But Burgas-Alexandroupolis will never happen.

One of the results of the Oct. 5 negotiations was that the Russians got a 51 percent stake in the project, to be spilt among three state-run companies: Transneft (the country's pipeline monopoly), Rosneft (a state oil company) and Gazprom (the state natural gas monopoly, which is now an oil player too). None of the three has ever been party to a successful project on non-Russian soil -- their record on new infrastructure projects on Russian soil is not exactly encouraging either -- and all have a tendency to expect other players to pay their way in joint projects. Additionally, the leaders of the three Russian firms are not too fond of each other, sporting numerous political and personal grudges -- in the case of the Gazprom and Rosneft leadership, these mutual feelings could be delicately described as unbridled loathing.

There are ways to ensure that a project will go nowhere, and this is certainly one the most effective.

With Burgas-Alexandroupolis out of the picture, there are two other places Caspian crude could go. The first is through a Ukrainian pipeline between Odessa and Brody. The Ukrainians built it in an attempt to cash in on the Caspian bonanza, but when no one offered to fill it for them they had to reverse it and send Russian crude south. Negotiations with Azerbaijan, however, are now going well, and the line will likely be reversed again, just not before late 2007. The Azerbaijanis are currently focusing all of their attention -- and oil -- on bringing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which bypasses the Black Sea altogether, up to full steam. Once that is done, they will again look to ship volumes through existing infrastructure that empties into the Black Sea -- and will then need a way through or around the Turkish Straits.

The second option is more projects like the BTC, which avoids the Black Sea entirely. Major energy investors involved in the Caspian region, such as Chevron Corp. and ExxonMobil, have found the Russians to be problematic at best when it comes to negotiating terms for shipping Caspian oil across Russia to the Black Sea. This prickliness has led the firms to
explore other options -- one of the reasons for the BTC project's success. The next step for these firms will be to find ways to expand the BTC corridor in order to bring Caspian crude to market.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 



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