Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Explosions spark energy dependence concerns in Turkey

Photo: Gas service is expected to be restored by next week. [Reuters]

By Alakbar Raufoglu for Southeast European Times -- 17/08/11
The PKK claimed responsibility for two recent attacks on a Turkey-Iran gas pipeline -- the August 11th explosion in Agri, Turkey, and the one in Bazargan, Iran, on July 29th. The line, which carries approximately 30m cubic meters of gas a day, was shut down after both incidents.
Officials in Ankara hope to resume full gas flows by next week.
"Iran is our very important [gas] supplier. We will overcome such incidents as we did before," Parliament's Energy Committee Chairman Mahmut Mucahit Findikli toldSETimes.
Iran is Turkey's second largest supplier of natural gas after Russia. Gas exports from Iran to Turkey showed about a 7% increase in the first half of this year compared to last year.
Meanwhile, the recent incidents raised further concerns among critics of Turkey's energy dependence on Iran.
"They [Iran] use gas delivery as political leverage," Ankara-based energy analyst Haluk Direskeneli told SETimes, adding that Iranian gas is "totally unreliable for Turkey's domestic consumption".
"They [Iran] supply poor quality (low HHV, high sulphur) gas. They also interrupt the flow, the pipeline is not secure, prone to explosions, and subject to PKK attacks all year long," he said. "
Turkey should reduce overall natural gas consumption and return to its local resources, namely renewable -- wind/ solar/ hydro and clean coal technologies firing local lignite in a difficult but smooth transition."
Veli Agbaba, CHP MP and member of the parliament's Energy Commission, believes the PKK attacks underscore that this pipeline is neither secure nor reliable.
"It is rather how Turkey can overcome terrorism in its territory, than the pipeline's reliability [that is important]," he told SETimes, adding that Ankara should take such risks into consideration in its energy policy.
Alexander Jackson, a London-based energy security analyst, focusing on Turkey and the Caucasus, said that the recent attacks forced Turkey to increase imports from Azerbaijan and Russia.
"Although Turkey has taken efforts to cultivate energy ties with many suppliers, allowing it to be flexible, short-term switches in supply are volatile and not necessarily sustainable," he toldSETimes. The chief lesson for Turkey to take away from this is that until the PKK is defeated, its entire web of strategic infrastructure in the southeast is vulnerable, he added.
Nader Habibi, Middle East economy analyst at Brandeis University's Crown Center, also believes politically motivated attacks on Turkey-Iran pipelines are likely to occur in the future, as both countries face Kurdish separatist movements.
"Since Iran faces considerable international pressure and sanctions, it has a strong incentive to maintain its close economic ties with Turkey and it is unlikely that the gas supply will be unilaterally interrupted unless there is severe political tension between the two countries," he toldSETimes.
Findikli, however, said the PKK attacks "would have zero influence on Ankara's energy policy towards Iran".
"There is no reason to dismiss Iran's importance in our energy policy. We need this door -- not only for Turkey's energy security, but for Europe's, as well," he said.
But local analysts still question the benefits of "Iran's door", saying Tehran is not a source of diversified energy routes for Europe and Turkey.
"Natural gas is a heroin for the consumers, but when it comes to the price, there is no negotiation between buyer and seller. Gas prices are being increased all the time and the buyer has almost no power to say 'no'," Direskeneli said.


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