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DOUBTS PERSIST ABOUT AUSTRIAN-SLOVAK OIL LINK

Cabinet to review pipeline plan

A NEW pipeline to connect crude oil networks in Austria and Slovakia is expected to be a major topic for the cabinet of Iveta Radičová after its summer break. The cabinet is expected to decide in September about Slovakia’s next steps on the proposed pipeline.

A NEW pipeline to connect crude oil networks in Austria and Slovakia is expected to be a major topic for the cabinet of Iveta Radičová after its summer break. The cabinet is expected to decide in September about Slovakia’s next steps on the proposed pipeline.

“We have tabled sufficient arguments to prove that this project is meaningful,” Robert Nemcsics, a representative of the BSP Bratislava-Schwechat Pipeline company, told the media on July 19, as quoted by the SITA newswire. He stated that documentation listing arguments in favour of and against the project will be submitted to the Slovak cabinet no later than September, adding that “the cabinet will decide how, when, and in what way the project will be definitively carried out.”

BSP is a joint venture of Slovakia’s Transpetrol company and Austria’s OMV Aktiengesellschaft, one of central and eastern Europe’s largest oil and natural gas companies.

The project plan

Slovakia and Austria are seeking to build what is now a missing link in the trans-European oil pipeline network. The originally proposed route across Žitný Ostrov, the biggest drinking-water reservoir in central Europe, brought much criticism from Slovak citizens, environmentalists and the Bratislava water utility, leading the Slovak Economy Ministry to postpone the project while alternative routes were considered.

Austrian Federal Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner and former Slovak economy minister Ľubomír Jahnátek signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Bratislava on October 16, 2009 to intensify collaboration between the two countries in the oil and gas business. This memorandum envisaged construction of a crude oil pipeline between Bratislava and Schwechat, the site of an OMV refinery and the terminus of pipelines coming from southern Europe, according to a press release by OMV. The pipeline is considered to be of strategic importance to Austria as it seeks to connect its oil pipeline network with supplies of crude oil from Russia.

Currently, the Schwechat refinery receives its crude oil via the Transalpine Pipeline and the Adria-Wien Pipeline from imported oil brought by ship to the harbour in Trieste, Italy.

The new pipeline could be of strategic importance for Slovakia as well as it would be able to supply crude oil to Bratislava’s refinery from the west in the event that oil from Russia was interrupted. Transpetrol has stated that construction of the BSP pipeline will lead to better diversification of transport routes, which along with the reverse-flow, will enhance the security of oil supplies in both countries.

According to Nemcsics, the Austrian side has finalised all its preparatory work and the problematic issues remain only on the Slovak side where the project faced wide opposition from environmentalists and the general public.

“The public perceived the [initial] routing of the pipeline as not very appropriate,” Nemcsics said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. The current government pledged in its programme statement that it would not allow the pipeline to cross Žitný Ostrov.

Alternative routes

Alternative routes were prepared between Slovakia and Austria that would cross either the environs of Bratislava or the Small Carpathians mountain range, with the basic goal to circumvent Žitný Ostrov.

The Economy Ministry unveiled 10 potential routes for the pipeline in May, in either the so-called Carpathian Corridor or the City Corridor. Experts in both countries have agreed that several possible routes should be further examined through impact studies and analyses, the Economy Ministry wrote in an information paper reporting on the progress of the interconnection of the Druzhba pipeline, running east through Slovakia, with the Austrian pipelines ending in Schwechat.

If the companies pick the Carpathian Corridor, the pipelines would be connected somewhere between Marchegg and Záhorská Ves.

The City Corridor proposes a connection in the surroundings of Jarovce-Kittsee or Petržalka-Kittsee, near Veľký Biel, transiting the Slovak capital.

The length of the pipeline will range between 81 and 152 kilometres depending on the exact route chosen and the ministry has estimated the cost will range from €70 to €112 million.

“For Transpetrol and for the state it is important that the economic effectiveness of Transpetrol is preserved,” a representative of the company, Peter Roth, said as quoted by TASR, adding that at the moment this is the only Transpetrol project capable of bringing income to the state budget.

Environmental opposition

But the alternative routes presented in May have also brought criticism. Some environmental activists, represented by Bratislava municipal council member Ján Budaj, have stated that both the Carpathian and the City corridors might endanger Bratislava’s water resources.

“We are not saying that there should be no pipeline; we only want the debate to be taking place transparently,” Budaj said, as quoted by SITA.

The civic association Nie ropovodu cez Žitný Ostrov (No to a Pipeline through Žitný Ostrov) has repeatedly protested against the project and continues its opposition to the joint venture.

“We continue saying that the project which BSP wants to lead is unfavourable for Slovakia from strategic and energy points of view,” Liliana Rástocká, the chairperson of the association, stated, as quoted by TASR, adding that no concrete evidence has been presented that proves that Austria would actually approve a reverse flow of oil to Slovakia.

“We are asking whether the announced €90 to €150 million for the new oil pipeline wouldn’t serve better if it was invested into the renovation of the 400 km of the already existing 40-year-old pipeline and into the restoration of oil storage facilities in eastern Slovakia,” Rástocká stated.

Meanwhile, municipalities in the area of the proposed pipeline say they do not have sufficient information about plans for the pipeline and how it might affect their communities and they are awaiting the cabinet’s decision after the summer break.

“The potential support for one of the routes must be decided by the regional council,” the spokesperson of the Bratislava Self-Governing Region, Iveta Tyšlerová, told the Sme daily. “We’ll need to find accord among the [regional] self-government, the city, and the state. That can only be achieved if the pipeline has an added value.”

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