Global Perspectives - Antonia Colibasanu

by Matthias Dalig, Antonia Colibasanu

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced on Dec. 3 that Turkey and Azerbaijan will accelerate the TANAP project so that the natural gas pipeline be completed before 2018. This follows the mounting tensions between Russia and Turkey, as Ankara seeks to diminish the country’s dependence on Russian energy imports.

Turkish energy concerns

Turkey’s natural gas consumption is growing and has increased rapidly over the last decade. It generates more than a third of its electricity through gas-powered plants. Russia is the source for 55% of Turkey’s domestic gas consumption. Other providers are Azerbaijan and Iran (via the South Caucasus and Tabriz-Ankara pipeline respectively) and as LNG from Algeria and a number of other countries. Crude oil imports from Russia are negligible at 3%.

On Thursday Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak officially announced the suspension of talks on the TurkStream pipeline project. On Saturday, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted by stating that the recent tensions had not affected Russian-Turkish energy projects and that it was Turkey that had halted the negotiations.

In the past days the Turkish government has (been) actively turned/looking to talk to partners that would provide alternatives to Russian imports. When president Erdogan visited Qatar on Wednesday, a preliminary deal for the long-term purchase of LNG was signed between Turkey’s state-owned BOTAŞ and Qatar’s national petroleum company (in addition to announcing a joint Turkish-Qatari army base on the peninsula). Turkish investments in LNG storage projects were also mentioned by Erdogan.

However, the problem with LNG, which accounted for only 13% of gas imports in 2013, is that Turkey does not have sufficient storage capacity to completely substitute regular natural gas. A shift to LNG imports would thus only be feasible in the long-term.

Other options for Turkey would be to increase its imports from Iran and to start buying gas from Turkmenistan and Northern Iraq. But here again insufficient infrastructure is an obstacle.

The role of gas in the Turkish economy goes further than in most other countries: 40% of vehicles in Turkey are powered by Liquefied Petroleum Gas, 28% of which is provided by Russia. LPG producers in the US, Algeria and Nigeria are expected to profit from the Turkish government’s plan reported on Wednesday to cut imports from Russia by a quarter in 2016, even though LPG from many other sources is more expensive. Sources quoted by Reuters have not ruled out that Russia might stop LPG shipments to Turkey altogether.

Factoring in the EU energy concerns

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to Azerbaijan and the announcement that the country will be pushing for progress in the construction of the TANAP pipeline is not only relevant to Turkey’s energy security. It is also central to reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas – an issue which recently has seen increased attention.

There are three main approaches to diversifying the EU’s gas supply: Importing gas from the MENA region, intensifying collaboration with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and importing LNG from the US, Australia and Africa. All of these scenarios have obstacles at least in the short-term. Yet again, the TANAP pipeline between Turkey and Azerbaijan plays a prominent role in these consideration: The most promising alternatives. i.e. importing from the Caspian region, especially Azerbaijan, and in the long-term Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, both depend on the Southern Gas corridor running through Turkey. An Azerbaijani government official recently reiterated his country’s commitment to EU energy security cooperation.

Lithuania and Poland have been pushing for LNG imports from the US as a means of diversification. Next year the European Commission will present its strategy to develop LNG, which will partly depend on better infrastructure to share it around Europe. In addition ten Eastern European countries opposed to Nord Stream 2 – an extension of the pipeline that links Germany with Russia – have sent a letter of complaint to the European commission on Nov 27. The signatories, namely Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, argue that the pipeline project would dangerously increase energy dependence on Russia (in addition to cutting some signatories from transit fees). The criticism stands against the support of major European countries for the project; first and foremost Germany. Nevertheless the Commission reiterated that it will scrutinise whether Nord Stream 2 complies with EU rules.

But maybe the answer to Europes’s and Turkey’s energy security chagrin is not better infrastructure or diversification to keep the gas flowing, but a completely different approach: At some point, decarbonisation and self-sufficiency through renewable energy might become a viable option, as various NGOs argue. This point has also been raised by Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, who said in her address at the Paris Climate Change Conference that a global agreement binding all countries to combat climate change would increase energy security by reducing dependence on fossil fuel imports.

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