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LOOKING AHEAD
21.02.2009

February 18, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexei Chichkin

THE "TREASURE PENINSULA" OF EUROPE

Instead of rushing to the Caucasus and Central Asia, the EU could invest in energy resources of Eastern Europe

The increasing dependence of Eastern Europe on imported oil and gas is frequently explained with scarcity of its own natural reserves. However, this assessment is not true. As far back as in 1949-1951, the Council of Economic Cooperation (Comecon) made up its first oil and gas balance. According to this document, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia were capable of satisfying 25% or even 35-40% of their national energy demand by domestic drilling and/or mutual supplies.

In 1960s, for various economic reasons, as well as considerations of "division of labor" within CEC, the Soviet leadership made an emphasis on extraction and export of its own vast reserves. Today, the increasing demand of Eastern Europe in oil and gas is instrumentalized in various foreign policy combinations. Russia is supposed to continue supplying the whole demand of former Comecon states, while the decline of foreign currency revenues makes extraction unfeasible. Meanwhile, Eastern Europe's own energy resources are kept conserved; moreover, in some cases, their amount is in fact classified.

According to the estimates of Poland's Ministry of Energy, the country's 242 gas deposits contain over 152 billion cub. m of gas, only 73 billion of them being industrially developed. The total amount of Poland's explored oil reserves, concentrated mainly in Central Poland, exceeds 13 million tons in 96 verified oilfields. Add the explored oil reserves of Poland's Baltic shelf, estimated in 8-10 million tons. The Ministry expects annual extraction of gas to reach 5 billion cub. m, and oil extraction – to exceed 200,000 tons per year in the period of 2009-2011, possibly rising by respectively 7 billion and 700,000 tons in case of favorable market trends, reduction of costs and completion of exploration of the shelf deposits. Thus, the so-called energy-dependent Poland possesses an impressive potential for building up its national oil and gas industry.

Florin Muntean, CEO of Romania's public gas transit operator Transgaz, foresees that Russia's capability to satisfy the whole of Europe's demand in gas is likely to become insufficient. The top manager emphasizes that Romania has got significant advantages before its neighbors, as since the times of Ceausescu, the country currently provides 60% of its gas supply by domestic extraction. But in perspective this share could be even more since the country has gas reserves reaching 305 billion cub. m, including 160 billion at the Black Sea shelf.

In addition to this Romania's industrially developed oil reserves currently exceed 100 million tons, ranking first in Eastern Europe. From this amount, 40-45 million tons are at the Black Sea shelf, the annual output comprising respectively 13 and 6.5 million tons. This comprises about 70% of the country's current needs in oil. So does Romania really need the heavily advertised but incredibly costly Nabucco pipeline?

Large amount of oil and gas are staying unexplored and undeveloped in the Balkan countries which are regarded as the major victims of the recent gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In fact, the Balkans is a real "treasure peninsula" of Europe.

Croatia's and Slovenia's aggregate oil reserves exceed 25 million tons, including 10-12 million at the Adriatic shelf, while the explored gas deposits amount to 15 billion cub. m, 10 billion of them at the Adriatic shelf. In its turn, Montenegro – according to recent British and US studies – has got over 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 million cub. m of gas in the Adriatic. Some of the reserves of Croatia and Montenegro are a subject of debate, as the naval border, as Montenegrin officials insist, should be ascertained.

In April 2009, Montenegro is going to launch a tender for additional exploration of oil and gas reserves in the Ulcina area. Local specialists expect to detect oil also in Crmnica, at the shores of the Skadar Lake, at the border with Albania.

According to V. Dublevich, the Skadar Lake and some other sites in the southern part of Montenegro will be included in the list of potential projects for oil concessions. In Montenegro, oil extraction is dominated by British companies that also express interest to Croatian and Slovenian reserves. They are reportedly going to establish a consortium for exploring deposits of the Adriatic shelf.

Very big oil deposits discovered in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For example, the oil field near Mostar is supposed to contain at least 500 million tons of oil. Oil exploration (and potential extraction) here is dominated by US corporations. Since 1989, AMOCO discovered significant amounts of oil in Bielina, Brcko, and Zvornik. Investing over $12 million in the Dinaridi exploration project, AMOCO detected oil deposits also in Stoc, Nevesinje and Trebinje in the vicinity of Mostar.

Albania's industrial reserves of oil amount to 35-40 million tons, but extraction remains at the level of 1960s, not exceeding 1.3 million tons. At present, Albania extracts only 200-350 million cub. m of gas, though the available amounts exceed 40 billion cub. m (27-30% of its reserves comprised by the deposits of the Adriatic and Ionic shelf) .

Thus, most of the countries of Eastern Europe possess large reserves of oil and gas which are kept "frozen" for political reasons. Why aren't they developed by the same companies that are involved in knowingly costly and doubtfully efficient projects suggesting oil delivery from the distant Caspian region along thousands kilometers of pipelines with numerous transshipments? Are grand projects like Nabucco and Black Sea-Baltic Corridor really supposed to materialize?

In fact, today's independence of the countries of Eastern Europe is fictitious, as the policy of their governments is determined with instructions received from US embassies. Costly transnational projects are equally fictitious in terms of economic profit, regarding the fact that most of them suggest delivery from or across unstable regions.

Luring European governments into these mega projects under the pretext of the desired "energy diversification", the US State Department subsequently acknowledges that the involved transportation risks require "Euro-Atlantic" military presence along the whole chain of delivery. This actually means that such projects are invented not for energy supply but for military-strategic purposes (like containment of Russia and China), and those European partners who agree to cooperate in these ventures, get dragged into reckless military ventures in the Caucasus, Middle East and across Asia.

The real geopolitical background of projects, ostensibly destined for the sake of "energy diversification", is today obvious for the European establishment as well as to the public, while postwar anarchy in Iraq does not encourage their governments for new "Euro-Atlantic" partnership in Asia. Instead, European governments could unseal their own treasure trove of energy resources.


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