Nigerian gas to Europe: Algiers, Rabat race to build pipeline projects
An EU senior official says that despite the urgent need now, the projects might be launched at a time when Europe will stop buying gas entirely in its pivot away from fossil fuels.
The race to provide energy-thirsty Europe with gas has started between the North African adversaries: Algeria and Morocco.
In attempts to supply the continent, which was trying to decrease its reliance on fossil fuel prior to the Ukraine war, both countries are pursuing to revive old gas pipeline projects that have been delayed for long.
While Morocco is working to establish a 6,000 km - 23 billion euros gas pipeline from Nigeria, which passes near the coasts of 13 African countries and is expected to supply billions of cubic meters of natural gas to the Kingdom, Algeria is going after reinstating old plans to build a Trans-Saharan pipeline from Nigeria passing through Niger to its Mediterranean coast.
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Morroco's gas project, which was first announced in 2016, will reach the European continent by passing through the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline (GME) into Spain and Portugal.
On the other hand, Algeria can transfer natural gas through the undersea Transmed pipeline through the Mediterranean to Italy, passing through Tunisia, or it can send it via tankers as liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Nigerian Oil Minister Timipre Sylva told AFP that currently a study plan is being conducted to check the project's viability, adding that some countries have already signed the project, but no official start date has been decided.
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Algeria, Africa's largest gas exporter and Europe's third-largest supplier, signed in July 2022 a memorandum of understanding MoU with Niamey and Abuja to build an 18 billion euros gas pipeline that extends over more than 4,000 km.
Earlier in January, Algerian Sonatrach signed two agreements with Italian energy giant Eni, one of which aims to achieve an increase in energy exports from Algeria to Italy and potentially from Algeria to Europe.
Eni then announced in late February the acquisition of two gas-producing concessions from the British oil and gas corporation BP in the North African country.
Too much politics and many parties involved
Relations between Algiers and Rabat have been tense for decades over the Western Sahara issue and have witnessed increased deterioration after Morocco normalized ties with the Israeli occupation in late 2020.
Accusing its African neighbor of "hostile acts", Algeria cut all diplomatic ties with Rabat in August 2021, and in 2020 refused to renew a 25-year agreement to pump its natural gas through Morocco to Spain, which included that the latter covers almost all its gas needs from the deal.
Nigeria's Oil Minister admitted that talks over the gas project are complicated.
"There are certain agreements that you must sign with every country" that the pipeline passes through, said Sylva.
Seven of the 13 countries have signed an MoU with Rabat and Abuja last year, in addition to the Economic Community of West African States.
The pipeline can create "a stable, predictable and mutually profitable gas market," noted Moroccan expert Jamal Machrouh, adding that it is of "strategic interest" for the EU.
Rabat is hoping the pipeline, combined with Nigeria's vast hydrocarbon reserves, can create "a stable, predictable, and mutually profitable gas market," said Machrouh.
Both energy projects pipelines could be viable for Europe, as it tries to diversify its imports and not rely on "a single player" for its gas supplies, Machrouh added.
The geopolitics of the projects is messy
Algeria's gas pipeline project could be built in three years and would fill "an important part of Europe's future needs," Algerian researcher Ahmed Tartar said.
However, talking to AFP last September, a Moroccan geopolitics expert noted that "a pipeline like this would be hugely vulnerable, not just to attacks by jihadists but also by local communities if they feel they're getting exploited by a project from which they derive no benefit."
"Then there's the bureaucratic element, which is extremely complex," he stressed. "Then, who's going to finance it?"
Earlier in February, Algerian Minister of Energy Mohamed Arkab said technical research is being conducted on the project, stressing that "this African project will benefit the countries it crosses," including neighboring ones.
Will Europe want the gas in the future?
By the time the projects are established, Europe could have already decreased its reliance on fossil fuels, a long-term plan that was disrupted recently following high energy prices and the overall economic crisis that hit the continent.
EU policy chief Josep Borrell commented on the pipeline last January during a visit to Rabat, saying, "You have to consider when it will be finished. Will we still want to use gas, methane?," suggesting that the North African country should concentrate its efforts on large renewable energy projects, such as solar panel farms and wind turbines, in addition to hydrogen exports to Europe.
A senior European diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity, "In the future, we won't be buying gas anymore."