TOO MANY PIPELINES. (Troppe pipeline)

Europe may not be able to sustain all its proposed gas supply pipelines but will need to build at least some soon to ensure security of supply in the latter half of this decade.

Scarred by the Russia-Ukraine gas row of 2009, which cut about a fifth of Europe's supply in mid winter, major European gas consumers plan many pipelines to promising producing regions in central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.

With China competing to woo producers, Europe will likely struggle to secure enough gas to fill all the new connections and would be unable to use it all if they do get filled.

"If every project that is discussed is built then there will be way too much supply, so I think the best projects will be developed and marginal ones delayed, or not built," said Graham Freedman, a senior analyst at UK consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

"But I don't think anybody doubts the fact that Europe is going to need more gas because domestic production is falling. It is going to be an importer for many years to come," he said.

Wood Mackenzie forecasts that gas demand in the European Union, Turkey and former Yugoslav states could rise from 551 bcm in 2010 to 653 billion cubic metres in 2020.

Under what it says is a bullish demand scenario, this would leave a supply shortfall of 125 bcm by the end of the decade unless far more is produced at home or brought in from overseas.

But if all major new pipelines were built and filled to capacity, gas flows to Europe by 2020 could far outstrip demand.

Since the Russia crisis, Europe has been comfortably supplied with gas for power generation, heating and industry through existing pipelines and an increasing number of liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers. The Medgaz link from Algeria to Spain could further increase supplies into the Iberian Peninisula by 8 bcm/year, if the repeatedly delayed pipeline opens this winter.

The 55 bcm/year Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea is expected to bring more Russian gas to western Europe, bypassing Ukraine by the end of next year.

Russia is pushing on with its South Stream project to bring up to another 63 bcm under the Black Sea via the Balkans.

The European Union is also championing the 31 bcm alternative Nabucco plan that would bring Caspian and Middle East gas via Turkey, excluding Russia.

But Italy also hopes that its projects TAP and ITGI for around 10 bcm capacity each can compete for mainly Caspian gas market share with South Stream and Nabucco, giving it more options via the "Southern Corridor" to Europe.

In all, the maximum capacity of these pipelines, some of which were conceived prior to the economic crisis which brought a gas price slump, adds up to 177 bcm to Europe's supply.

Pipeline supplies would also face competition from liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has become much more readily available because of a surge in North American shale gas production, with unconventional gas finds in Europe posing another threat to both types of external supplier.

"Some projects make sense from a security of supply perspective, because of the diversification of gas sources that they would bring," said Nigel Harris of UK consultancy Kingston Energy. "But with plenty of gas available from existing sources, there's no commercial benefit from diversification."

Nord Stream and South Stream are just additional routes for Russian-controlled gas flows, he said, while alternative sources from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran remain uncertain.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) thinks global gas demand may recover from 2011, but it still expects supply to outstrip demand until 2020..

Some gas suppliers are more optimistic, pointing to buoyant demand in the Middle East, China and India which could leave less gas for Europe. Phillipe Boisseau, president of France's Total Gas & Power, told the recent European Autumn Gas Conference in Berlin that the "supply bubble will disappear in three years."

Speakers agreed that current gas prices in consuming countries would not support all Europe's proposed supply lines, although they expect demand for power generation to contine to rise as Europe looks to back up its increasing wind power capacity with gas-fired plants.
(FuturesPros.com via Reuters)

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