The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is expected to bring Azerbaijani gas to Italy passing through Greece and Albania: a project aimed at increasing energy security, diversifying sources and reducing dependence on Russian and North African gas. Leaving aside the controversies and the lengthy process, caused by environmental concerns in Apulia, a region that would be just 8 kilometers away from the new pipeline, the project is, however, subject to certain geopolitical risks, in an international context still characterized by strong uncertainty, changing alliances, outbreaks of widespread tension and frozen conflicts ready to re-explode.
Italy's imported gas comes mainly from Russia and North Africa
According to the Ministry of Economic Development, Italy’s currently operative importation infrastructure are: the TAG Pipelin with a transport capacity of 107 million cubic meters of gas per day, which transports Russian Natural gas from Slovakia to the border with Italy; The TRANSITGAS Pipeline with 59 million cubic meters per day and which transports primarily natural gas from Holland and Norway; the TTPC (Trans Tunisian Pipeline Company) pipeline with a capacity of 108 million cubic meters of gas per day and transports gas to Italy from Algeria; and the GREENSTREAM Pipeline (coming from Lybia) with 46.7 million cubic meter per day.
The possible rise in the Libyan crisis and the renegotiation of contracts with Algeria, which will expire in 2019, could decrease the percentage of gas transported from the southern shores of the Mediterranean, thus increasing Rome’s dependence on supplies from Moscow. The TAP is expected to prevent this problem. The gas pipeline is part of the larger Southern Gas Corridor project, an expression coined by the European Commission to identify infrastructural projects aimed at increasing the diversification of sources and security of supplies, thanks to the arrival in Europe of new gas from Azerbaijan and, perhaps in the future, from Iran and the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea.
Total investments for approximately $45 billion
With a length of almost 4,000 kilometers, the crossing of seven countries and the involvement of a dozen of the leading companies in the industry, the Southern Gas Corridor provides for total investments of approximately $45 billion. The final part of the pipeline should transport 24.68 million cubic meters of gas per day to Italy, equal to approximately 8% of the current 320 million cubic meters imported in the peninsula every 24 hours via pipeline.
The main doubts concerning the project result from the stability of the Caucasus region. Azerbaijan and Armenia are still far from reaching a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the autonomous region with an Armenian majority which proclaimed independence in 1988. The open war ended in 1994, but sporadic clashes still occur and, in April last year, fighting effectively resumed. The conflict is also frozen between Georgia and Russia for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russian-majority separatist regions, but less than ten years ago, in August 2008, Russian troops arrived just 9 kilometers away from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, next to where the South-Caucasian Pipeline passes, the infrastructure of the Southern Gas Corridor. Slightly further north, Chechnya currently appears “pacified”, but remains a recruitment basin for Islamic extremism.
The Russia-Turkey relationship
Another unknown fact weighs on the effectiveness of the Southern Gas Corridor: the fluctuating relationship between Russia and Turkey. The two countries, fierce opponents during the Cold War, have come closer in recent years, but the conflict resumed in November 2015, when Turkish Aviation shot down a Russian fighter jet flying over Syria. The attempted coup by Turkish militants in July 2016 then drove Ankara’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to seek the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Turkish Stream project was thus resumed, a gas pipeline that is expected to connect the Russian methane network to the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), the second infrastructure of the Southern Gas Corridor. A development that would enable Russia to increase its gas exports to Italy using, paradoxically, the infrastructure planned to reduce the weight of supplies from Moscow.