WASHINGTON, DC — In a long-awaited decision, the developers of the Shah Deniz natural gas field, a mega project in the Caspian Sea, have announced the route for the western end of the pipelines that will stretch from Azerbaijan to Turkey and then across Greece and Albania to Italy.
The decision will bring much needed energy diversity and security to Europe and further cement the US-Azerbaijani relationship when it comes to energy supply.
Initially carrying 353 billion cubic feet of gas each year, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) — part of the Southern Gas Corridor — will bond Azerbaijan to the energy-hungry nations of Europe. Recent statements made by European leaders during Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Brussels reinforced the pipeline’s importance to the region’s energy future.
The TAP establishes a new geographic reality by directly linking Azerbaijan, Georgia and potentially the entire Caspian region to Southern Europe. This is particularly good news for Greece — not only does it demonstrate the Shah Deniz Consortium’s confidence in that country’s future, it will also bring Greece jobs and much-needed infrastructure improvements.
Also, earlier, Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company (SOCAR) said it is moving forward with the acquisition of Greece’s gas distribution company, DEFSA. SOCAR also recently stated that it is looking to help Albania build up its natural gas infrastructure.
And while TAP is the current pipeline of choice for the Southern Corridor, the Shah Deniz Consortium is already looking at additional interconnector pipelines to Bulgaria and other Balkan nations to accommodate future supply and demand. Such interconnector pipelines would only further enhance the diversity and security of European energy markets.
But this isn’t just about Europe. The TAP will go a long way toward enhancing the already strong energy partnership between the US and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan was the first country in the energy-rich region at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia to open Caspian hydrocarbon resources to US energy companies. Azerbaijan is home to 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, as well as seven billion barrels of oil reserves.
For two decades, Azerbaijan, building on its history as one of the world’s first oil centers, has worked with the US, European nations and other regional partners to develop and promote energy projects in the Caspian Sea area. Two companies with operations in the US, BP and Statoil, are part of the international consortium that is developing the Shah Deniz natural gas field, located only 40 miles off the coast of Azerbaijan in the South Caspian Sea.
The pipeline will benefit the US by bringing Caspian gas to global markets, helping to meet international energy demand and stimulate worldwide economic growth. As the world’s leading economy, the US stands to benefit when consumers, companies and countries around the world are able and willing to spend and invest.
The earlier example of the success of the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, a major infrastructure project, which brings Caspian oil to the world market though the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, demonstrated that energy can serve as the backbone of regional integration. The BTC pipeline is among the most successful international projects the US supported – suffice to mention that it provides up to 40 percent of Israel’s oil supply – and it has solidified both the regional partnership between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey and America’s partnership with each of these nations.
Just as America’s vocal support mattered for the success of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and helped to bring about positive change and prosperity to our region, the continued US support is important as the Southern Gas Corridor is moving closer to becoming a reality. This serves US strategic interests and makes America a contributor to prosperity and integration of a wider Southern Europe.
As the Southern Corridor extends through the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, this is another example of what can be accomplished by working together to realize a positive and shared strategic vision.
Elin Suleymanov is the ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States.