Egypt-Libya-Greece gas pipeline: a new alternative route for blue gold?

The idea is to build two gas pipelines, in addition to the current pipeline with Italy: one to connect the North African country to Greece through the Mediterranean, while the other should reach the gas terminals of Damietta, Egypt, approximately 200 kilometers north of Cairo

di Alexander Scipio

La Libya is studying a new, ambitious project that could revolutionize the geopolitics of the Mediterranean: a pipeline to connect gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean to the Greece passing through Cyrenaica, the Libyan region Oriental controlled by the forces of General Khalifa Haftar. This was announced by the chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Oil Corporation (Noc, the Libyan oil company), Farhat bin Qadara in an interview with the Dubai-based television station "Cnbc Arabiya". The idea is to build two gas pipelines, in addition to the current pipeline with Italy: one to connect the North African country to Greece through the Mediterranean, while the other should reach the gas terminals of Damietta, Egypt, approximately 200 kilometers north of Cairo. A large-scale project that could also include Israel, connected to Egypt by gas pipeline, but which clashes with two major unknowns: one of an economic nature, the other political.

The first issue is that Libya does not currently produce enough gas. According to an estimate by “Agenzia Nova”, Libya's total gas production was 9,23 billion cubic meters in 2021, against an internal demand of approximately 6 billion cubic meters. Those figures could actually change, but only with the discovery of new huge gas fields (in this regard, Eni and BP have several onshore and offshore explorations in the pipeline) and the construction of new combined cycle power plants or large plants from renewable sources of energy and in particular solar, for which TotalEnergies is in pole position. It is worth mentioning that, in theory, Libya can export up to 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Italy through the Greenstream, the gas pipeline that connects Sicily to Eni's gas fields in southwestern Libya. However, just 2021 billion cubic meters of Libyan gas arrived in 3,23, down from the 4,46 billion cubic meters of the previous year.

So why build a new gas pipeline if the only existing connection is not even 50% exploited? Simple: because in Libya there is still a lot of gas to be exploited, we are talking about fields greater than the Zohr maxi-discovery, in Egypt, with even relatively low investments. Last April, in fact, the ambassador of Italy in Tripoli, Joseph Buccino, had said that "Libya can increase gas production by 30 percent in one year with investments not exceeding 1 billion dollars". Provided that in Tripoli via is a strong and shared executive authority, while for months there has been a tug-of-war between two rival coalitions: on the one hand, the government of national unity of the interim prime minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba based in Tripoli, recognized by the international level but disheartened by Parliament; on the other, the National Stability Government designated by the Tobruk House of Representatives and headed by Fathi Bashagha, former Minister of the Interior of Tripoli. General Haftar, on the other hand, is playing a game of his own: officially on Bashagha's side, in fact in negotiations with Prime Minister Dabaiba. The very appointment of Farhat bin Qadara would be the result of a "secret" agreement between the general and the head of the government of Tripoli.

The number one of the NOC also announced that Eni and BP should be investing huge amounts of money (we are talking about 8 billion dollars) for the development of offshore and onshore natural gas fields. What Bin Qadara does not say, however, is that the investments of Eni and BP cannot start if the political crisis in Libya is not resolved. And as of today there seem to be only two ways out, both very difficult: first, the birth of a new government that unites the two rival administrations, with the risk, however, that we will arrive at the paradoxical situation of having three governments; second, an agreement between those who really have power, namely Haftar on one side and Dabaiba on the other.

The second issue with the project for the new gas pipeline is related not only to the fragility of the political situation in Libya, but also to the international context. Turkey has signed a controversial memorandum of understanding for the exploitation of hydrocarbons throughout the Libyan territory (both onshore and offshore) with the Government of National Unity of Tripoli. An agreement that was immediately branded as "illegal" by Egypt and Greece. The Egypt-Libya-Greece gas pipeline project would hardly be accepted willingly by Ankara, which currently boasts a very strong influence on the government of Tripoli. Secondly: Would Israel agree to entrust Egypt and Libya, a country with which it has no diplomatic relations, with its foreign gas supplies to ? Furthermore, for its part, Greece too may not have an interest in participating in the construction of a gas pipeline whose route does not include Cyprus as the EastMed pipeline does.

The Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline project connects the fields of the State of Israel, and hypothetically also those of Egypt, with Greece and Cyprus. The pipeline agreement was signed by Greece, Cyprus and Israel in January 2020, and on July 19, 2020, the Israeli government officially approved the agreement, allowing signatory countries to push ahead with plans to complete the pipeline by 2025. The project has stalled after the withdrawal of US support in January 2022 and pressure from Turkey to oppose the pipeline. However, the energy crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and the consequent attempt by European countries to find alternatives to Russian gas has increased the interest in the EastMed pipeline. According to the project, the pipeline will have a length of approximately 1.900 kilometers, it will reach a depth of 3 kilometers and it will have a capacity of 10 billion cubic meters per year with estimated costs of approximately 6,8 billion dollars. On closer inspection, Bin Qadara's announcement therefore aims to present Libya in the international political arena no longer just as a Turkish pawn, but as one of the main regional players able to negotiate on multiple issues.

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