16 July 2018

Monday, 02:42



The anti-TAP protests manifest not the environmental concerns but significant economic and geopolitical factors



The closer is the deadline for the large-scale South Gas Corridor project, the more is the number of those who try to put sand in the accelerated locomotive.

In particular, an international group of scientists, as well as representatives of human rights and environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Bankwatch Network, Friends of the Earth Europe and Climate Action Network Europe, appealed to the European Commission and European state banks not to spend taxpayers' money on the Transadriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP).

They believe that the EU did not assess the damage caused to the environmental situation in the region by the implementation of this project. "Instead of rapid reduction of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, as required by the Paris Accord, Europe will be tied to fossil fuels because of the Trans Adriatic Gas pipeline for decades. Given that today, as a result of the use of fossil fuels, the emission budget is already exceeded, which allows to avoid catastrophic, irreversible changes to our climate, the creation of a new infrastructure using fossil fuels, especially on the scale of the Southern Gas Corridor, is unjustified," says the message.

The addressees of the letter were the largest financial institutions in Europe. Activists appealed to the head of the European Investment Bank (EIB) Werner Hoyer and the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Sumi Chakrabarti. The appeal warns European Commission about the growing discontent among the population of the areas where the TAP is supposed to pass. In particular, the Italian commune Melendugno is mentioned, whose inhabitants are extremely concerned about the prospect of neighborhood with the gas pipeline.

Incidentally, the beginning of July turned out to be quite hot for the Italian law enforcement bodies, which had to face not only protest actions organized by the No TAP committee, but also outright violence against the TAP project.

As the Italian media reported, Melendugno suffered from a mass clash of opponents of the construction of TAP with the police after the activists tried to block the movement of special equipment of the pipeline construction company.

On the other hand, the governor of the Italian region Apulia Michele Emiliano spoke in support of the Eagle LNG gas pipeline project, which aims to deliver liquefied gas from the Balkans to Southern Italy. In fact, this project is intended to compete with the TAP pipeline, but it was rejected by the Italian government because of economic inefficiency.

In any case, these reports demonstrate that the opponents of the Southern Gas Corridor are looking for any opportunities to obstruct the project, especially one of its components - the TAP gas pipeline. It is clear that there is no way to influence the production component, including the Shah Deniz Stage-2 and the construction of the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP), since Azerbaijan has a more decisive word in this project. So, there is the last component, TAP. Other factors determine precisely the objective of the opponents of the new energy supply route are also available. The construction of the TAP must be completed later than other components, and most importantly, this gas pipeline will become the main conductor of Azerbaijani gas to Europe.

It is quite obvious that the arguments of the opponents are not backed by any objective factors, but rather represent the behind-the-scenes games of individual actors of the gas market in Europe.

First of all, we would like to note the dissatisfaction of environmental organizations, which note that the increase in natural gas supplies to Europe will hamper the implementation of the paragraphs of the Paris Climate Accord aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions. For some reason, in their angry message to the European Commission and banks, environmentalists forget that natural gas is the most environmentally friendly type of all fossil fuels. The increase in gas consumption primarily reduces the use of coal, the emissions from the combustion of which cause enormous damage to the atmosphere. On the other hand, the supply of Azerbaijani gas (10 billion cubic meters per year), given the European consumption of 400 billion annually, will clearly not have a big impact on increasing the dependence of Europe on fossil fuels. At the same time, for some reason it is not taken into account that SGC provides Europe with the most real alternative to the current gas supply system.

"Today, the gas factor is the main condition ensuring energy security in the world. From this point of view, Azerbaijan contributes to ensuring energy security. At the same time, Azerbaijani gas is the only new source of gas that will be transported to Europe, since all other sources are already involved. A new source has already been identified. These gas resources will be supplied to the European markets through a new line. Our advantage is that there are both factors. This is a very serious step in the field of energy diversification," said Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev recently at the 22nd World Oil Congress. He added that Azerbaijan was aware of its responsibility: "We are well aware that the projects implemented with the partner countries will ensure the energy balance and energy security of many countries and will help them."

That is why seven countries have already been involved in the implementation of the SGC project: Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, and Italy.

"Three more Balkan countries can later join the Southern Gas Corridor. The relevant work is also carried out in this direction. In the future, we can further expand the geography of this project, as this is an initiative that benefits all countries. We have created such a wonderful format of cooperation that the producers (Azerbaijan) and transit countries, consumers work on the basis of common interests. It was this balance of interests that led to the successful implementation of this major project, as there are many technical, financial, economic and political issues involved. We can say that the Southern Gas Corridor will be successfully implemented, and Azerbaijan will provide natural gas both regionally and to Europe for many years," said the Azerbaijani President.

In addition, the SGC infrastructure as a whole is aimed not only at the supply of Azerbaijani gas, but also allows the use of other sources. First of all, it is the gas from the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea. Although the situation in this direction is not very encouraging, mainly due to the lack of opportunities to deliver gas from Turkmenistan to Baku, which is mainly due to the unsettled legal status of the Caspian. But the situation can change over time. After all, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are now supplying their oil via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, although the economic efficiency of this option was not appreciated in the initial period of construction and start-up of the pipeline.

In addition, SGC can accelerate the implementation of a number of other projects for the delivery of gas to Europe, in particular from Iran, Iraq, Israel.

The possibility of gas supplies from Iran and Iraq has been available for a long time, but the situation in the Middle East, as well as the slow operation of oil companies in Iran after the softening of the sanctions regime, do not yet allow us to name specific projects.

Meanwhile, the activities of Israel, which recently discovered large gas fields off its coast, are very noteworthy. As part of the oil congress in Istanbul, Israel and Turkey agreed to accelerate negotiations on the construction of a gas pipeline to Europe.

According to the Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Supply of Israel Yuval Steinitz, following the results of four rounds of talks, the parties decided to conclude a preliminary intergovernmental agreement on the construction of the pipeline.

"We are confident that in the future Europe will buy gas produced in the Eastern Mediterranean. Currently intensive negotiations are under way to build two pipelines. One of them is planned to be constructed in Turkey and further to Europe. Another pipeline is planned to be constructed through South Cyprus and Greece to Italy," said the minister.

At the same time, SGC can give a significant benefit both financially and temporally as a project for delivery of Israeli gas to Europe.

Considering all these advantages, the US has further intensified support for this project. Washington initially supported energy projects aimed at getting the Caspian basin's energy resources to world markets. Especially this support was manifested during the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. The Obama administration also provided political assistance to the SGC project, however, after the election of Donald Trump, who, as a businessman, understands the benefits of the free market and competition, Washington has become even more active in this regard. This was emphasized in two addresses of President Donald Trump to his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on the occasion of the Republic Day and the opening of the traditional Caspian Oil & Gas Exhibition.

Another confirmation of this support was expressed at the first meeting of President Ilham Aliyev with the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Istanbul. According to AZERTAG, I. Aliyev told about the ongoing work on the implementation of SGC, and Tillerson noted that the U.S. would continue to support the implementation of this project.

"President Ilham Aliyev asked Rex Tillerson to convey to U.S. President Donald Tramp his gratitude for the congratulatory letter on the occasion of the opening of the 24th International Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibition and Conference. The head of state described this message as US support for the energy policy of Azerbaijan, in particular, the South Gas Corridor project", the report says.

Comprehensive support for the SGC project by both the US and EU officials and selected European countries forces the opponents of the project to step up, which, as indicated above, was chosen as the main goal of TAP. But it is clear that it will not be possible to stop the project with purely ecological pretexts, as the consortium of companies, like the banks that finance the project, are already very strict about compliance with environmental norms.

However, the recent arrest of the mayor of the city of Avetran (province of Apulia), Antonio Mino, can point to the real puppeteers against the anti-TAP protest. Mino is one of the ardent opponents of the construction of TAP and personally participated in the actions against the gas pipeline several times. But the most interesting thing is that Mino is suspected of being one of the bosses of the Cosa Nostra mafia, writes the Italian La Reppublica and La Stampa.

The operation of Italian carabinieri and law enforcement agencies demonstrates that the Italian protesters are not at all concerned for the ecology and olive trees, but there are more significant economic and geopolitical factors involved. It is not the first time that Azerbaijan faces such a far-fetched protest paid for by certain circles. In fact, small problems are surmountable, which has been proved more than once before.

It is hardly to stop a multibillion-dollar project accelerating all the way to the ultimate goal with small dirty tricks.