The Southern Gas Corridor -who gains more?

On November 15, 2020, the Southern Gas Corridor started its operation delivering natural gas from the Shah Deniz 2 field in Azerbaijan to the European consumers. The interregional mega energy project, involving several countries, the EU, and international energy consortiums, is considered to be a significant step in increasing the EU’s energy security and diversifying its energy suppliers. However, the 3500 km long pipeline with its 10 billion cubic meters of annual capacity doesn’t seem like a gamechanger on the European energy market but still can make some European countries less dependent from the Russian energy and can facilitate energy infrastructure developments on the Balkans as well.

Energy diversification and making the European Union less dependent on the Russian energy supply were always high on the agenda. The idea to bring affordable, competitive Caspian gas to the European energy market to diversify the existing energy routes and increase European energy security was first proposed about 15 years ago. Back then, the Southern Gas Corridor was just one of the plans of the EU to acquire non-Russian energy. After 2010, SGC seemed to emerge as a main priority of the EU’s energy policy and has been considered a Project of Common Interest which meant large-scale EU funds to the 40 billion USD project. The fact that neither the COVID-19 pandemic nor the Nagorno-Karabakh war could set back finalizing the project indicates the importance of the SGC in the eyes of the countries involved, the energy consortiums, and the EU as well. Besides energy security and the strategic appreciation of the Caspian region SGC could bring other political benefits and facilitate further infrastructural developments too.

Energy dependency of the European Union

Energy resources of the European Union proved to be insufficient due to its high energy consumption (935 Mtoe in 2019), which means the bloc desperately relies upon third countries to import. The EU’s import dependency rate was just 56% in 2000, while in 2019 this rate reached 61%, which presents the crescent energy need, and consequently the growing energy dependency of the bloc. The main imported energy carriers are petroleum products – accounting for almost two thirds of energy imports – and gas. The latter is giving 27% of the imported energy mix of the EU, which meant 358 billion cubic meters (bcm) natural gas in 2019. Although, there are several other importers too, Russia is the main energy importer partner of the EU regarding crude oil (27 %) and gas (41 %) as well, which indicates the bloc’s significant dependency on the Russian energy.[i] And as other natural gas importers remain in a low level - Norway (16 %), Algeria (8 %) and Qatar (5 %) –, the EU’s strategy is still to increase the number of smaller importers to offset Russia’s leverage over the continent and make energy supplies more secure.

In light of these, it can be clearly seen why energy policy and developing energy security play a key role in the EU’s internal and external policy as well. Regarding fossil fuels, the internal, domestic resources have seemingly reached their limit. Because of this and of environmental purposes as well, renewable and alternative energy sources are gaining more and more support from the EU too. Altough, despite developing the exploitation of its own renewable clean energy, the bloc would still need countries outside the EU that can suffice the bloc’s growing consumption. For this, the EU’s external policy also considers energy security as a vital interest of the Union, supporting and making new initiatives to diversify its energy importers.[ii]

Contrary to crude oil, which is more widely available and can be transported more easily, gas requires more time, infrastructure, pipelines, and involves more countries while it flows from the quarry to the consumer.[1] It means multilateral, interregional, time-consuming megaprojects with large investments from the beneficiary parties.


[1] Except LNG which allows gas to be transported in liquidate form from countries which has no pipeline infrastructure, however the profitability of LNG importation is still questionable

[i] From where do we import energy? In: Eurostat
https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/cache/infographs/energy/bloc-2c.html (2021.07.15.)

[ii] RUSSEL, Martin: Energy security in the EU's external policy In: European Parliamentary Research Service, March 2020
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/210517/EPRS_IDA(2020)649334_EN.pdf (2021.07.15.)

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