Central-Eastern European pipeline gets go-ahead

An ambitious gas pipeline project connecting Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria received a shot in the arm, when all of the involved parties signed a memorandum of understanding for the project, a vital part of Europe’s efforts to wean itself off Russian gas.

The four countries pledged to get the BRUA pipeline off the ground as soon as possible during the fourth Central and South Eastern Europe Gas Connectivity (CESEC) meeting in the Romanian capital Bucharest.

“We are at a very advanced stage with the BRUA project. We issued the building permit, we are conducting procedures for assigning the construction works, and contracts have already been signed for the design part and for the part concerning equipment for stations,” Romanian Energy Minister Toma Petcu revealed.

“In December, the contracts for the execution part are going to be signed and pipe procurement is going to be finalised,” Petcu added.

Petcu insisted that the December deadline for finalising that part of the project is essential so that actual construction can begin when the weather is optimal in spring 2018.

“I want BRUA to begin at the same time in all four states, not only in Romania, but also in Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria, and I would like it to be completed, phase I and phase II at the same time,” the minister explained.

He warned that failure to do so would go against the targets established when the project was approved and funded, adding that all the ministers involved and the European Commission are in agreement on this particular requirement.

Petcu said the pipeline will include reverse-flow technology, which will make it possible to pump natural gas in either direction to satisfy needs during periods of peak demand or emergencies.

The project has had to deal with a difficult initial phase. In July, Romanian transmission system operator Transgaz said the pipeline would no longer cross Hungary, as the gas operators there proposed distributing gas from Hungary to Slovakia, Ukraine, Croatia and Serbia.

Transgaz’s Hungarian counterpart, FGSZ, insisted that it would no longer be able to hold a so-called ‘open-season’ on the Romanian-Hungarian-Austrian part of the pipeline, claiming the only “economically viable” part of the project would be the existing Romania-Hungary interconnector.

Thursday’s announcement, however, appears to have put the project back onto the path originally envisaged by the EU and the four countries involved. BRUA will eventually incorporate existing infrastructure and add new pipelines and interconnectors, to link them together.

BRUA will be able to transport gas from the Black Sea and, when supply comes online at the end of the decade, from the Caspian too.

It is intended to cut Eastern and Central Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, an important part of the European Commission’s third energy package and the CESEC group’s objectives.

In addition to agreeing on the BRUA project, the CESEC meeting’s Memorandum of Understanding pledged the parties to extending their scope beyond gas into electricity markets, energy efficiency and renewable development.

At the Budapest ministerial, EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said that “thanks to the high-level political commitment we have witnessed today, and to the smart mobilisation of EU funds, we will continue to complete the energy infrastructure the region needs.”

An agreement was also brokered on Croatia’s planned Liquid Natural Gas terminal on the northern Adriatic island of Krk.