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News roundup: The Black Sea and east Mediterranean

Recent events in the oil and gas industry have largely revolved around the same issue, as countries that currently import gas heavily from Russia look for alternative supplies. This is proving very useful for the Black Sea and east Mediterranean region, where a number of nations are in excellent positions to profit from this shift.

Both Moldova and Georgia are increasing the amount of gas they import from some of their non-Russian neighbours. Meanwhile, increasingly large steps are being taken towards the construction of pipelines that would supply Europe with central Asian gas.

Elsewhere, Turkey is continuing its quest to find an oil supply of its own to cut down on the amount it has to import. The nation is looking to the Qandil region of Iraq, where it will soon begin exploration efforts.


First firms to bid for TAP work

The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project has taken a step forwards with the announcement that two pre-qualification contracts for its construction have been launched. One of these is for engineering, procurement, construction and installation (EPCI) of the pipeline, while the other covers the supply of the tools and materials needed.

TAP's procurement director Knut Steinar Kvindesland said: "The selection of potential suppliers will remain rigorous, with particular emphasis on meeting health, safety and environment standards, and a proven commitment to TAP's zero harm policy."

The EPCI contract will cover an offshore section of the pipeline between the coastlines of Albania and southern Italy. This section will be around 105 km long and will be constructed at a maximum depth of 820 m. It also includes survey, seabed, pre-commissioning activities and civil works at the landfalls in Albania and Italy.


Bulgaria looks to join Southern Gas Corridor

With the growing market in Europe for non-Russian gas, it is not surprising that so many countries are looking to join up with pipelines in order to ferry the resource to this new market. The latest of these nations is Bulgaria, which announced on Wednesday (March 5th) that it is seeking to join the Southern Gas Corridor.

This would be done through the proposed Nabucco-West pipeline, a project that was frozen in 2013. It was intended to transport gas from the Shah Deniz II field in Azerbaijan via the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) and eventually take it to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria. However, the Shah Deniz II consortium chose to use TAP instead.

Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov has announced that the country intends to "unfreeze the Nabucco project" following talks with Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan. "In the current situation there is a real chance for Azeri gas to... be transited through our territory to neighbouring states," Mr Borisov added.

This would not only allow Bulgaria to become something of a transport hub, it would also enable it to reduce its reliance on Russian gas. Some 88 per cent of Bulgarian imports of this resource come from Russia at the moment. The unfreezing of Nabucco-West would also create more demand for Azeri gas.


Turkey to explore for oil in Qandil

In Turkey, the latest announcement in the oil and gas industry is that the country will be exploring around the Qandil Mountains of Iraq. The nation will be looking in the Hindirin and Coman oil fields, located in the foothills of the mountains, according to Turkish energy minister Taner Yildiz.

Turkey has acquired permission to drill in these areas, but the new exploration is almost entirely down to a political change in the region. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has often come into conflict with Turkish security forces, is based in the Qandil Mountains and it was thought their presence made the Hindirin and Coman fields unsafe.

However, the PKK - which is identified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the US -  has recently agreed to disarm. Turkey is of the opinion that the region is now safe for exploration, which could provide the nation with much-needed resources that would reduce its dependence on imported oil.

"It is very important that the decision regarding disarmament was declared on February 28th," Mr Yidilz said. "With the relief of political pressure, we will altogether reach for more resources in Turkey. We will have more resources after the removal of the PKK's pressure [in Qandil]."


Romanian gas shipped to Moldova

Another country looking to reduce the amount of gas it imports from Russia is Moldova. The former Soviet republic imports the vast majority of its gas, but for the first time it is looking westwards for a supplier. On March 4th, a pipeline constructed last year began pumping gas to Moldova from its neighbour Romania.

The 43 km pipeline was almost entirely funded by the Romanian government, which clearly recognised the economic potential of such a construction. The pipeline, which took around a year to construct, travels from the Romanian city of Iasi to Moldova's Ungheni.

This year, an estimated 16 million cubic metres of gas will travel to Moldova, which will make up around 1.6 per cent of the amount the smaller country will need to import. The majority of the rest will still come from Russia. "It is the first time that gas goes from west to east," said Natalia Gherman, Moldova's foreign minister.

This also marks a fairly large shift in Romania's gas policy, as it was recently discovered that the country had reduced the amount of gas it imports by 61 per cent last year. This is a sign of a move to domestic production and exporting, which is something Romania is keen to move towards, particularly as it is also looking to reduce the amount it buys from Russia.


Georgia steps up Azeri gas imports

Finally, it appears that there is yet another growing market for Azerbaijan's plentiful gas reserves. Georgia has imported Azeri gas for years, but the amount it purchases from its neighbour rose dramatically over the course of 2014. Georgia now imports around 70 per cent of its gas from Azerbaijan.

In January 2014, Georgia imported 24,474.3 tons of Azeri gas. By January 2015, this had more than doubled to a total of 56,779.5. However, the price of this gas had fallen just as dramatically. Georgia paid $43,166,700 for its gas in January last year, while this year the country paid just $35,680,500 for more than twice the amount.

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