With the prospect of a bottleneck in Russian gas supplies to Europe, EU countries will increasingly need an alternative. One option lies on its southern border.
Energy policy was a secondary item on the agenda at last week’s EU-Africa summit, where the EU pledged an “equal partnership” with its southern neighbor continent. However, EU and several African leaders have already hinted at increasing supplies in recent weeks.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell hinted at a change of course when he revealed the EU is in talks with gas-producing countries, including Algeria, to expand LNG supplies. With the Ukraine crisis threatening Europe’s gas supply from Russia, there is an opportunity for African gas producers including Nigeria, Egypt, Mozambique, Tanzania and Ghana to offer exports to Europe.
Days ahead of the Brussels summit, European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and Nigerian Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo agreed to “consider all options for increased supplies of liquefied natural gas from Nigeria to the EU”.
This is a clear change in approach in Brussels. However, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans has prioritized renewable energy and hydrogen exports from Africa and is reluctant to exempt the continent from the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism.
With around 7% of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves, Africa is far from exhausting its potential. The Commission’s move to give natural gas a green label as part of its “taxonomy” for sustainable investments has been interpreted as a green light by some African states to accelerate their search for investments in infrastructure and pipelines that will enable them to continue producing and producing Offer to increase to Europe.
Algeria, Niger and Nigeria recently agreed to build the multi-billion dollar, 4,128km Trans-Saharan gas pipeline that will run through the three countries to Europe. When completed, the pipeline will transport 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
Italy and Spain are also looking at ways to increase their imports from Libya and Algeria and send them to the rest of Europe.
The EU is also financially supporting the EastMed pipeline, which will connect the European grid to offshore gas fields in Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. The 2,000km Transmed pipeline from Africa will be completed in 2027, connecting Algeria to Italy via Tunisia. Algeria is already Italy’s second largest gas exporter after Russia.
Former UN Under-Secretary for Sustainable Energy Kandeh Yumkella told Timmermans that the EU’s taxonomy decision means Africa can start talking about gas as a transition fuel.
Meanwhile, the joint statement after the summit concluded: “We recognize the importance of using available natural resources as part of this energy transition process.”
The crisis in Ukraine and its impact on the EU’s energy supply “presents a unique opportunity for African gas producers to develop a sound, bankable gas strategy to meet the energy needs of motherland Africa and our European friends,” says Abdur-Rasheed Tunde Omidiya , President of the African Energy Chamber in Nigeria and West Africa.
Nigeria, Mozambique and Senegal, all of which have significant natural gas reserves, have lobbied hard in recent months for Europe to continue providing financial support for new gas projects. Providing it would make economic and political sense to the self-proclaimed “geopolitical” commission.
But it is unrealistic to expect African gas to fill the void left by Russia, at least in the near future.
“North African countries currently supply natural gas to Europe via pipelines, but do not have the technical capacity to increase their production and exports,” says Simone Tagliapietra, a researcher at the Bruegel Think Tank.
“It is difficult to see additional volumes available for Europe in the short term,” he added.
“The infrastructure will be crucial. Investors in Europe may be selling solutions to install as many terminals as possible that will allow us to export gas to them. That’s what we need to be competitive in gas,” Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, Equatorial Guinea’s Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons, told the African Energy Chamber.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]