UNTIL quite recently the only imaginable direction for natural gas transported via Slovakia was east to west. But following the 2009 gas crisis – when Russia cut off supplies of the natural gas it normally supplies to Slovakia and other European countries via Ukrainian pipelines, as part of a price dispute with Ukraine – and the opening of new pipelines, natural gas has been finding new transmission routes. Slovakia and its main gas transport company Eustream have actively participated in this process and now projects put aside 10 years ago are being revived. The new pipelines should help Eustream to keep its transmission capacities used. Last year it transported about 25 percent less gas than in 2011. One of the reasons was the launch of the Nord Stream undersea pipeline between Russia and Germany.
“In this sector I highlight especially the need for a north-south gas interconnection,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said, as quoted by the TASR newswire, when discussing energy security with his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk in Poprad on March 27. “We expect that an agreement about building such an interconnection may be signed in June.”
Eustream, the natural gas transporter and operator of the transmission system in Slovakia, whose transmission system has an annual capacity of over 90 billion cubic metres, is cooperating with its Polish and Hungarian partners to build a strategic north-south corridor for gas transmission, connecting the liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal at Świnoujście in Poland with a possible source of supplies from the Norwegian coast via Baltic pipelines and a planned LNG terminal on the Croatian island of Krk, known as Adria LNG. In the future the Slovak-Polish interconnector could also provide Slovakia with access to Polish shale gas, Eustream spokesperson Vahram Chuguryan told The Slovak Spectator.
A feasibility study into the Slovak-Polish project is currently being finalised.
“The Slovak-Hungarian interconnector project is far further [advanced],” Chuguryan told The Slovak Spectator. This project will see construction of a 115-kilometre bi-directional pipeline (of which 95 kilometres is in Hungary and 20 kilometres is in Slovakia) with an annual capacity of 5 billion cubic metres. “The strategic importance of the project for Slovakia lays also in securing access to the planned southern gas corridors and the LNG terminal in Croatia.”
Construction work on the €160-million project has already begun and the pipeline should go into operation in January 2015.
“Both projects are strongly supported by the European Union as they will contribute to strengthening of energy security in the whole region, stability of supplies and diversification of transmission routes,” said Chuguryan.
Eustream is also reviving a project to interconnect Belarus, Poland and Slovakia.
“We are returning to this project after about 10 years when we, together with partner gas companies, discussed interconnection of the Yamal pipeline with the traditional transmission route from east to west at Veľké Kapušany,” said Chuguryan. Yamal currently links Russian Arctic gas fields with Germany, overland via Belarus and Poland.
Ukraine, which is also looking for alternative gas routes to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, has shown an interest in constructing a new bi-directional interconnection between the gas transmission systems of Slovakia and Ukraine. However, a study to investigate demand for transmission via the proposed interconnector did not confirm sufficient interest in new capacity and indicated that the economic return of the project was uncertain. Eustream will continue to provide bi-directional capacities in Veľké Kapušany within the existing system, according to Chuguryan.
After the ownership structure of the major gas companies in Slovakia changed recently, other changes with a potential impact on Slovak companies have taken place in the Czech Republic too.
Earlier this year the Czech company Energetický a Průmyslový Holding (EPH) acquired the 49-percent stake in the gas utility Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel (SPP) formerly owned by E.ON Ruhrgas and GDF Suez. SPP owns 100-percent of the shares in Eustream. However, EPH’s plan to acquire the Czech gas transporter Net4Gas failed when its owner, Germany’s RWE, sold Net4Gas to a consortium comprising German financial group Allianz and Canadian investment group Borealis.
“We regret that we did not win, but this certainly does not affect the advantageousness of the acquisition of the share in SPP,” EPH spokesperson Daniel Častvaj said on March 29, in comments reported by the Czech daily Hospodářské Noviny. “We will just fail to create synergies that would have been offered to us if we had acquired Net4Gas.”
The pipelines of Eustream and Net4Gas were built as a single system when Slovakia and the Czech Republic were one country. Currently, Net4Gas operates a network of 3,600 kilometres of pipelines; its latest section, the 166-kilometre Gazelle link, connecting to the Nord Stream, was put into operation this January.
Eustream did not comment on the sale of Net4Gas.
“The Slovak gas transporter does not respond to changes in the ownership structures of other transporters,” Chuguryan told The Slovak Spectator.