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Greece and Egypt: Game Changers in the East Mediterranean’s Energy Geopolitics

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Greece remains the third most unexplored country in the East Mediterranean with promising prospects of energy discoveries that are documented in 3-D seismic surveys conducted by the seismic vessel “Nordic Explorer” of Norwegian company PGS in 2012-2013. Estimates by petroleum geologists, engineers and energy economists indicate that a possible volume of 10 trillion cubic feet of gas lies in the sea area south of the Greek island of Crete, and in other areas mostly located in deep and ultra-deep Greek sea waters.

It is in this context that Greece supports development of indigenous maritime blocks and land areas that can produce investment revenues and royalties associated to hydrocarbon volumes. Revenues and royalties are explicitly specified in contracts signed between the Greek state and consortia of companies like the consortium of Hellenic Petroleum, American Exxon Mobil and French Total for oil and gas exploration in maritime areas west and southwest of Crete. According to this contract, if oil and gas is discovered, “the Greek state stands to gain 40% of the total investment revenues, broken down as follows: 20% as income tax plus 5% as regional tax, with the rest being income on royalties based on a rising scale linked to hydrocarbon volume”.

The coronavirus pandemic has slightly delayed plans for the development of new fields. For example, the three-member consortium that has taken over the development of two maritime blocks in west and southwest of Crete rescheduled the conduct of seismic surveys for 2022 instead of 2021.From a hydrocarbon exploration point of view, offshore Crete represents a frontier area. The maritime area of Crete however faces two major challenges, namely a combination of complex geological history and ultra-deep waters exceeding three thousand meters in most of the area. Geologic similarities with Egypt’s Zohr gas field, however, raise prospects for significant hydrocarbon discoveries.

The Hellenic Hydrocarbon Resources Management Authority has identified more than 30 maritime blocks with a total estimated quantity of recoverable gas ranging between 2 and 2.5 trillion cubic meters. This surfaces the need for the declaration of a new international licensing round that can likely be digital following the steps of neighboring Egypt that declared in late February the first digital international bid round for energy exploration and production (E&P) operations in 24 Blocks at the Gulf of Suez, Western Desert, and the East Mediterranean.

The pandemic prompted Egypt to adopt certain policies to overcome energy challenges such as energy oversupply attributed to the economic slow-down, and the reduction of energy exports. The Egyptian government reduced energy prices for industrial users from $5.50 million British Thermal Units (mmbtu) to $4.50 mmbtu and cut the tax on company dividends to soften the economic impact of the pandemic on the energy sector. Egypt’s renewable sector has also been affected forcing the Egyptian Electric Utility and Consumer Protection Regulatory Agency to impose caps on the quantity of solar energy that private companies and independent producers can generate. The regulatory authority’s interference is expected to slow down investment in renewables for the next two years and the Egyptian government delays tenders for solar parks until energy supply-demand dynamics play in the latter’s favor. 

But throughout 2020, the Petroleum sector achieved major accomplishments and prospects for the exploration of gas fields in Egypt have been quite promising. Prime petroleum industry projects include but are not limited to the octane production expansion project of Alexandria National Refining and Petrochemical Company; the inauguration of the petroleum refinery of Egyptian Refining Company (ERC) in Mostorod that is expected to produce some 2.3 million tons of diesel fuel and 860 thousand tons of high-octane fuel annually; and, the completion of drilling operations of Ahmed Hamdy Tunnel 2, a transportation link under the Suez Canal that will connect the Sinai Peninsula to the main land of Egypt.

Despite the pandemic, Cairo signed 22 exploration and production agreements in 2020 for the development of offshore blocks in the Red Sea and the East Mediterranean with international oil majors like American Exxon Mobil, British Shell and BP, Italian ENI, French Total and others. Greek medium sized energy company Energean Oil & Gas has taken over full ownership of the Egyptian Abu Qir concession located in West Nile Delta that is one of the largest gas producing hubs. The Greek energy company took a final investment decision recently on the North El Amriya and North Idku concession that contains the Yazzi and Python gas fields that will be developed as satellite fields to the Abu Qir offshore and onshore infrastructure.

Greece and Egypt managed to become two of the few countries in the East Mediterranean that ensured promising oil and gas investment prospects. Most important, the two countries through coordinated policies have determined the region’s unfolding energy geopolitics.  

Athens and Cairo signed an agreement on the partial delimitation of their respective EEZs largely invalidating the Libyan Memorandum of Understanding on the delineation of maritime boundaries. The agreement demarcates a maritime area that extends from the 26th Meridian that meets the eastern part of Crete up to the 28th Meridian that meets the Greek island of Rhodes granting 55% of divided maritime zones to Egypt and 45% to Greece. The partial delimitation agreement is outcome of 15-year negotiations, and it recognizes all the rights of coastal states in their maritime zones, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The agreement practically nullifies the argument of Turkey that Greek islands do not have an Exclusive Economic Zone.  The partial delimitation agreement also foresees that both countries work together to set up a joint venture to explore and develop natural resources extending to their EEZs.

Greece, Egypt and the region is expected to reap benefits from the delimitation agreement that include but are not limited to the attraction of international investment for oil and gas exploration in demarcated maritime areas; prevention of the Turkish State Energy company (TPAO) to proceed with drilling activities in Libyan maritime zones that extend to Egyptian waters; execution of regional energy infrastructure projects like the East Mediterranean Gas Pipeline that will transport gas from Israel and Cyprus to Europe via Greece; and, execution of the EuroAfrica Interconnector that will link the power grids of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece through the Greek island of Crete.

Driven by a broad regional commitment to enhanced security and energy cooperation, Greece and Egypt are among the founding members of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum whose charter was signed in September 2020. The forum headquartered in Cairo is a regional cooperation organization whose prime objective is to maximize the benefits of the East Mediterranean’s energy wealth through joint integration and use of existing infrastructure or construction of new one. The forum provides a platform of dialogue between governments and aims to ensure communication between states and the energy industry for upstream and downstream issues.

As a result of promising gas discoveries in the East Mediterranean, Greece and Egypt have taken steps to transform into regional energy trading hubs. Greece has executed energy infrastructure projects with the aim to serve as a gateway for regional gas supplies to Europe. For example, Athens upgraded twice the Revithoussa LNG onshore terminal located southwest of Athens to manage bigger LNG volumes and maintain increased LNG gasification capacity. In addition, the swift construction of the offshore Floating Storage and Regasification Unit (FSRU) in the city of Alexandroupolis in northeast Greece for the transfer of LNG to the Balkans and Southeast Europe has attracted American and European support. The reason is that the FSRU on northeast Greece enhances the diversification of Europe’s energy resources and the funneling of American LNG to the wider region.

For its part, Egypt signed an agreement with Cyprus for the construction of an undersea pipeline that will transport gas from the Aphrodite field to Egypt’s liquefaction plants for re-export to third markets. An additional agreement was signed for transportation of Israeli gas from the Leviathan field via pipeline to Egypt and another deal between the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Authority (EGAS),Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), and the Palestinian Investment Fund for the development of the Gaza Marine gas field. For the latter agreement, exploitation plans see the transportation of Palestinian gas through a new pipeline to Egypt for liquefaction and export to Europe.

Unquestionably, Greece and Egypt are two uniquely positioned countries that adopt consistent policies that center not only on the development of indigenous energy resources and their transformation into trading hubs but also on the demarcation of maritime boundaries. Both countries pursue active diplomacy and coalition building, which has lit the engines of energy cooperation, and has invigorated regional mechanisms for the benefit of their economies, peoples and future generations.

Antonia Dimou is Head of the Middle East Unit at the Institute for Security and Defense Analyses, Greece; and, an Associate at the Center for Middle East Development, University of California, Los Angeles

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Energy transition is a global challenge that needs an urgent global response

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COP26 showed that green energy is not yet appealing enough for the world to reach a consensus on coal phase-out. The priority now should be creating affordable and viable alternatives 

Many were hoping that COP26 would be the moment the world agreed to phase out coal. Instead, we received a much-needed reality check when the pledge to “phase out” coal was weakened to “phase down”. 

 This change was reportedly pushed by India and China whose economies are still largely reliant on coal. The decision proved that the world is not yet ready to live without the most polluting fossil fuels. 

 This is an enormous problem. Coal is the planet’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, but also a major source of energy, producing over one-third of global electricity generation. Furthermore, global coal-fired electricity generation could reach an all-time high in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

 Given the continued demand for coal, especially in the emerging markets, we need to accelerate the use of alternative energy sources, but also ensure their equal distribution around the world.

 There are a number of steps policymakers and business leaders are taking to tackle this challenge, but all of them need to be accelerated if we are to incentivise as rapid shift away from coal as the world needs. 

 The first action to be stepped up is public and private investment in renewable energy. This investment can help on three fronts: improve efficiency and increase output of existing technologies, and help develop new technologies. For green alternatives to coal to become more economically viable, especially, for poorer countries, we need more supply and lower costs.

 There are some reasons to be hopeful. During COP26 more than 450 firms representing a ground-breaking $130 trillion of assets pledged investment to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate agreement. 

 The benefits of existing investment are also becoming clearer. Global hydrogen initiatives, for example, are accelerating rapidly, and if investment is kept up, the Hydrogen Council expects it to become a competitive low-carbon solution in long haul trucking, shipping, and steel production.

 However, the challenge remains enormous. The IEA warned in October 2021 that investment in renewable energy needs to triple by the end of this decade to effectively combat climate change. Momentum must be kept up.

 This is especially important for countries like India where coal is arguably the main driver for the country’s economic growth and supports “as many as 10-15 million people … through ancillary employment and social programs near the mines”, according to Brookings Institute.  

This leads us to the second step which must be accelerated: support for developing countries to incentivise energy transition in a way which does not compromise their growth. 

Again, there is activity on this front, but it is insufficient. Twelve years ago, richer countries pledged to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change. 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the financial assistance failed to reach $80 billion in 2019, and likely fell substantially short in 2020. Governments say they will reach the promised amount by 2023. If anything, they should aim to reach it sooner.

There are huge structural costs in adapting electricity grids to be powered at a large scale by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Businesses will also need to adapt and millions of employees across the world will need to be re-skilled. To incentivise making these difficult but necessary changes, developing countries should be provided with the financial support promised them over a decade ago.

The third step to be developed further is regulation. Only governments are in a position to pass legislation which encourages a faster energy transition. To take just one example, the European Commission’s Green Deal, proposes introduction of new CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, incentivising the electrification of vehicles. 

This kind of simple, direct legislation can reduce consumption of fossil fuels and encourage industry to tackle climate change.

Widespread legislative change won’t be straightforward. Governments should closely involve industry in the consultative process to ensure changes drive innovation rather than add unnecessary bureaucracy, which has already delayed development of renewable assets in countries including Germany and Italy. Still, regardless of the challenges, stronger regulation will be key to turning corporate and sovereign pledges into concrete achievements. 

COP26 showed that we are not ready as a globe to phase out coal. The priority for the global leaders must now be to do everything they can to drive the shift towards green energy and reach the global consensus needed to save our planet.

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Pakistan–Russia Gas Stream: Opportunities and Risks of New Flagship Energy Project

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source: twitter

Russia’s Yekaterinburg hosted the 7th meeting of the Russian-Pakistani Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation on November 24–26, 2021. Chaired by Omar Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s Minister for Economic Affairs, and Nikolai Shulginov, Russia’s Minister of Energy, the meeting was attended by around 70 policy makers, heads of key industrial companies and businessmen from both sides, marking a significant change in the bilateral relations between Moscow and Islamabad.

Three pillars of bilateral relations

Among the most important questions raised by the Commission were collaboration in trade, investment and the energy sector.

According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, the Russian-Pakistani trade turnover increased in 2020 by 45.8% compared to 2019, totaling 789.8 million U.S. dollars. Yet, there is still huge potential for increasing the trade volume for the two countries, including textiles and agricultural products of Pakistan and Russian products of machinery, technical expertise as well as transfer of knowledge and R&D.

Another prospective project discussed at the intergovernmental level is initiating a common trade corridor between Russia, the Central Asia and Pakistan. Based on the One-Belt-One-Road concept, launched by China, the Pakistan Road project is supposed to create a free flow of goods between Russia and Pakistan through building necessary economic and transport infrastructure, including railway construction and special customs conditions. During the Commission meeting, both countries expressed their intention to collaborate on renewal of the railway machines fleet and facilities in Pakistan, including supplies of mechanized track maintenance and renewal machines; supplies of 50 shunting (2400HP or less) and 100 mainline (over 3000HP) diesel locomotives; joint R&D of the technical and economic feasibility of locomotives production based in the Locomotive Factory Risalpur and other. The proposed contractors of the project might be the Russian Sinara Transport Machines, Uralvagonzavod JSC that stand ready to supply Pakistan Railway with freight wagons, locomotives and passenger coaches. In order to engage import and export activities between Russian and Pakistani businessmen, the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce signed a memorandum with Ural Chamber of Commerce and Industry, marking a new step in bilateral relations. Similar memorandums have already been signed with other Chambers of Commerce in Russian regions.

— Today, the ties between Russia and Pakistan are objectively strengthening in all areas including economic, political and military collaboration. But we, as businessmen, are primarily interested in the development of trade relations and new transit corridors for export-import activities. For example, the prospective pathways of the Pakistan-Central Asia-Russia trade and economic corridor project are now being actively discussed at the intergovernmental level, — said Mohsin Sheikh, Director of the Pakistan Russia Business Council of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry. — For Islamabad, this issue is one of the most important. Based on a similar experience of trade with China, we see great prospects for this direction. That is why representatives of Pakistan’s government, customs officers, diplomats and businessmen gathered in Yekaterinburg today.

However, the flagship project of the new era of the Pakistan-Russia relations is likely to be the Pakistan Gas Stream. Previously known as the North-South Gas Pipeline, this mega-project (1,100 kilometers in length) is expected to cost up to USD 2,5 billion and is claimed to be highly beneficial for Pakistan. Being a net importer of energy, Pakistan will be able to develop and integrate new sources of natural gas and transport it to the densely populated industrialized north. At the same time, the project will enable Pakistan—whose main industries are still dependent on the coal consumption—to take a major step forward gradually replacing coal with relatively more ecologically sustainable natural gas. To enable this significant development in the Pakistan’s energy sector, Moscow and Islamabad have made preliminary agreements to carry on the research of Pakistan’s mineral resource sector including copper, gold, iron, lead and zinc ores of Baluchistan, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Punjab Provinces.

A lot opportunities but a lot more risks?

The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipe Project undoubtedly opens major investment opportunities for Pakistan. Among them are establishment of new refineries; the launch of virtual LNG pipelines; building of LNG onshore storages of LNG; investing in strategic oil and gas storages. Yet, it seems that Pakistan is likely to win more from the Project than Russia. And here’s why. The current version of the agreement signed by Moscow and Islamabad has been essentially reworked. According to it, Russia will likely to receive only 26 percent in the project stake instead of 85 percent as it was previously planned, while the Pakistani side will retain a controlling stake (74 percent) in the project.

Another stranding factor for Russia is although Moscow will be entitled to provide all the necessary facilities and equipment for the building of the pipeline, the entire construction process will be supervised by an independent Pakistani-based company, which will substantially boost Pakistan’s influence at each development. Finally, the vast bulk of the gas transported via the pipeline will likely come from Qatar, which will further strengthen Qatar’s role in the Pakistani energy sector.

Big strategy but safety first

The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline will surely become an important strategic tool for Russia to reactivate the South Asian vector of its foreign policy. Even though the project’s aim is not to gain a fast investment return and economic benefits, it follows significant strategic goals for both countries. As Russia-India political and economic relations are cooling down, Moscow is likely to boost ties with Pakistan, including cooperation in economy, military, safety and potentially nuclear energy, that was highlighted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during visit to Islamabad earlier this year. Such an expansion of relations with Pakistan will allow Russia to gain a more solid foothold in the South Asian part of China’s BRI, thus opening up a range of new lucrative opportunities for Moscow.

Apart from its economic and political aspects, the Pakistan Stream Project also has clear geopolitical implications. It marks Russia’s growing influence in South Asia and points to some remarkable transformations that are currently taking place in this region. The ongoing geopolitical game within the India-Russia-Pakistan triangle is yet less favorable for New Delhi much because of the Pakistan Stream Project. Even though the project is not directly aimed to jeopardize the India’s role in the region, it is considered the first dangerous signal for New Delhi. For instance, the International “Extended troika” Conference on Afghanistan, which was held in Moscow last spring united representatives from the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan but left India aside (even though the latter has important strategic interests in Afghanistan).

With the recent withdrawal of the U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, Moscow has become literally the only warden of Central Asia’s security. As Russia is worried about the possibility of Islamist militants infiltrating the Central Asia, the main defensive buffer in the South for Moscow, the recent decision of Vladimir Putin to equip its military base in Tajikistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, seems to be just on time. Obviously, Islamabad that faces major risks amidst the Afghanistan crisis sees Moscow as a prospective strategic partner who will help Imran Khan strengthen the Pakistani efforts in fighting the terrorism threat.

From our partner RIAC

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How wind power is transforming communities in Viet Nam

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In two provinces of Viet Nam, a quiet transformation is taking place, driven by the power of renewable energy.

Thien Nghiep Commune, a few hundred kilometres from Ho Chi Min City, is a community of just over 6,000 people – where for years, people relied largely on farming, fishing and seasonal labour to make ends meet.

Now, thanks to a wind farm backed by the Seed Capital Assistance Facility (SCAF) – a multi-donor trust fund, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – people in the Thien Nghiep Commune are accessing new jobs, infrastructure and – soon – cheap, clean energy. The 40MW Dai Phong project, one of two wind farms run by SCAF partner company the Blue Circle, has brought new hope to the community.

For the 759 million people in the world who lack access to electricity, the introduction of clean energy solutions can bring improved healthcare, better education and affordable broadband, creating new jobs, livelihoods and sustainable economic value to reduce poverty.

“It’s not only about the technology and the big spinning wheel for me. It’s more about making investment decisions for the planet and at the same time not compromising on the necessity that we call electricity,” said Nguyen Thi Hoai Thuong, who works as a community liaison. “The interesting part is I work for the project, but I actually work for the community and with the community.”

While the wind farm is not yet online, a focus on local hiring and paying fair prices for land has already made a big difference to the community.

“I used the money from the land sale to the Dai Phong project to repair my house and invest in my cattle. Currently, my life is stable and I have not encountered any difficulties since selling the land,” said Ms. Le Thi Doan.

Powering change

The energy sector accounts for approximately 75 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). UNEP research shows that these need to be reduced dramatically and eventually eliminated to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Renewable energy, in all its forms, is one of humanity’s greatest assets in the fight to limit climate change. Capacity across the globe continues to grow every year, lowering both GHGs and air pollution, but the pace of action must accelerate to hold global temperature rise to 1.5 °C this century.

“To boost growth in renewables, however, companies need to access finance,” said Rakesh  Shejwal, a Programme Management Officer at SCAF. “This is where SCAF comes in. SCAF works through private equity funds and development companies to mobilize early-stage investment low-carbon projects in developing countries.”

The 176 projects it seed financed have mobilized US $3.47 billion to build over one gigawatt of generation capacity, avoiding emissions of 4.68 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent each year.

But SCAF’s work isn’t just about cutting emissions. It is bringing huge benefits across the sustainable development agenda: increasing access to clean and reliable electricity and boosting communities across Asia and Africa. SCAF will be potentially creating 17,000 jobs.

This is evident in Ninh Thuan province, where the Blue Circle created both the first commercial wind power project and the first to be commissioned by a foreign private investor in Viet Nam.

Here, the Dam Nai wind farm has delivered fifteen 2.625 MW turbines, the largest in the country at the time. These will generate approximately 100 GWh per year. They will avoid over 68,000 tCO2e annually and create more than an estimated 302 temporary construction and 13 permanent operation and maintenance jobs for the local community.

Students from the local high school in Ninh Thuan Province were also given the opportunity to meet with engineers and technicians on the project, increasing their knowledge about how renewable energy works and opening up new career paths.

SCAF, through its partners, is supporting clean energy project development in the Southeast Asian region and African region. SCAF has more than a decade of experience in decarbonization and is currently poised to run till 2026.

UNEP

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