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Southern Gas Corridor Pipeline Would Loosen Russian Stranglehold On European Natural Gas Supply

November 21, 2012
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Source: Forbes

Prospects for the originally proposed Nabucco natural gas pipeline from Turkey to Austria face considerable uncertainty, so Azerbaijan and Turkey are moving ahead to open an alternate “Southern Gas Corridor” route to bypass Russia and Iran and diversify European natural gas supplies.   As Europe looks to become more energy independent from Russian energy suppliers, one option of leverage will come from harnessing the Caspian energy supply. On track to be completed as early as 2017, the 1,240 mile Trans-Anatolian natural gas pipeline (TANAP) will transport 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year from the Shah Deniz II field in Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey.

TANAP announced new partnerships with energy giants BP, Statoil and Total SA this month. The pipeline’s success is important not just to Azerbaijan and Turkey but also to the European Union.  The market will support this pipeline, but there are significant political hurdles that will require U.S. leadership and a hands-on approach is not something the U.S. looks ready to do. While U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has voiced support for a Southern energy corridor, the U.S. must do more. Support can come in many forms, including a diplomatic push.  U.S. leadership could signal to Russia and Iran that the U.S. is committed to its longstanding allies in the region – namely Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Azerbaijan continues to be a key U.S. and European ally.  Its natural gas reserves, estimated at 30 trillion cubic feet, are relatively small compared to its Central Asian counterparts. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan has been able to leverage its resources substantially due to its key geographic location and reputation as a reliable partner.  TANAP is important to the long-term viability of Azerbaijan’s natural gas exports and security.  The country is consistently under threat of being hemmed in by neighboring Iran and Russia who are not interested in a pipeline that would bypass their territories.

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