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Black Sea news roundup

The Black Sea region is a source of growing importance when it comes to supplying oil and gas to countries across Europe. Its value shows no signs of diminishing, as the region is a potential transit corridor for Russian gas - giving it an integral role in ensuring the whole continent enjoys a reliable supply of gas for years to come.

Unsurprisingly given its increasing significance in the global hydrocarbons market, recent weeks have seen a number of significant developments in the region. Read on for the latest stories from the Black Sea's oil and gas industries.

Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria agree Eastring pipeline deal

Black Sea nations Bulgaria and Romania have reached a deal with Hungary and Slovakia to build a new gas pipeline linking central and south-eastern Europe.

There are two proposed versions of the so-called Eastring pipeline: one stretching 832 km across Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and another measuring 1,274 km that would extend into Bulgaria.

Speaking earlier this month, former prime minister of the Czech Republic Mirek Topolanek gave extensive details about the project to EurActiv.

Among the advantages of Eastring is that it would take advantage of existing infrastructure - namely the Eustream pipeline, which runs through Slovak territory and was completely renovated in 2009 in response to the gas crisis.

Potential sources for the pipeline's forward flows include Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iraq, Cyprus and Russia, while the reverse flow would bring gas to western Europe's key economies. The first phase of Eastring could be finished as early as 2018.

A copy of the signed memorandum, obtained by EurActiv, states: "The parties to this document hereby declare their support for the implementation of interconnection and substantial bidirectional capacity of existing infrastructure for natural gas supply on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and the Slovak Republic, and for joint efforts to seek new sources and routes of diversification."

ExxonMobil and Bulgaria discuss exploration licences

US-based oil giant ExxonMobil has revealed it is interested in exploring the Bulgarian perimeters of the Black Sea for oil and gas opportunities. 

According to Bulgarian news agency Novinite, Exxon's exploration manager for Europe and the Caspian Sea Stacey Weltmer stated that the company is eager to win a tender for oil and gas shale exploration in the area.

Ms Weltmer met with a number of high-ranking Bulgarian energy officials to discuss the matter and confirm the company's interest in the Teres and Silistar blocks.

Zhecho Stankov, deputy chair of the energy commission to the Bulgarian parliament, said the contract will last for five years, with an option to extend it by a further two.

Delyan Dimitrov of gas transmission and storage systems operator Bulgartransgaz added that construction has already begun on interconnecting pipes to Romania, Serbia, Greece and Turkey.

Hunt Oil and Noble eye Bulgaria oil and gas expansion

As well as ExxonMobil, a further two US companies are eager to search for oil and gas in the Bulgarian Black Sea.

Noble Energy - the discoverer and operator of the world's largest deepwater gas field, in the Mediterranean Sea - is closely following the competition for oil and gas permits in the Silistar and Teres fields, reports Bulgaria's Focus news agency.

Tiffany Hopkins, regional exploration manager for Europe, Asia, Australia and South America at Noble Energy, described Bulgaria as an "attractive place for development of projects in the gas and oil sectors".

"As a company operating on European territories, we are acquainted with the European legislation and it will not be a problem to join the competition for Teres and Silistar," she added.

Meanwhile, Hunt Oil - which has an office, geology specialists and drilling operations in Romania - has also shown great interest in exploring the Black Sea blocks.

James Travis, Hunt's director in charge of international projects, said he was impressed that the requirements for permits to search for oil and gas in the area included a stipulation that companies must possess extensive deepwater exploration experience.

"We consider participation in the tenders as we are satisfied the criteria for assessment of offers are 100 per cent objective and verifiable, as they are solely based on quantity offer indicators," he explained.

"This guarantees lots of transparency in the tender procedure and the objective assessment of all participants' offers."

Saipem poised to begin building Turkey gas link

Gazprom and Saipem have restarted a deal to build a gas link through the Black Sea to Turkey, with work set to resume in June, reports Bloomberg.

The two parties had initially teamed up to construct the South Stream pipeline to Europe, but this plan was axed in the midst of heightened tension between the EU and Russia off the back of the Ukraine conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has since revealed that Gazprom will instead build the link to Turkey, as the country seeks to bypass Ukraine by 2020.

Saipem held two contracts worth a combined $2.7 billion for work on the South Stream project and had initially planned to start building the first line last year, while providing support services for the second line.

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