Invisible but precious: gas from the Black Sea is making its way through a labyrinth of brand new pipes, fuelling Romania’s hopes of doing without Russian supplies.
In Vadu (southeast), a processing plant was inaugurated on Tuesday with great fanfare. Mark Beacom, CEO of Black Sea Oil and Gas (BSOG), emphasizes the challenges associated with such extraction, with the conflict in Ukraine nearby.
“There is certainly an impact: mines have been detected near our platform, planes and warships pass by,” he worries. But Romania is proud to set an example in Europe.
The Prime Minister, Nicolae Ciuca, hailed “a decisive step to ensure energy security” at a time when war is threatening international gas supplies.
Owned by the American Carlyle International Energy Partners and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the company started two weeks ago to tap into underwater deposits, the first project developed in the Romanian sector of the Black Sea in 30 years.
Its drilling platform, the result of a 400 million dollar investment, supplies 3 million cubic meters of gas per day, which is “10% of Romania’s gas needs”. BSOG expects to operate for about ten years.
“Today, we are facing an emergency of security of supply. We have to put our old devils in the closet and start producing locally,” Thierry Bros, an expert on energy and climate at Sciences Po Paris, told AFP.
“We must relaunch the projects in the Black Sea, the production of gas in Norway, in the United Kingdom we must think of launching the production of shale gas and in France that of mine gas,” he enumerates.
In this perspective of emancipation from Moscow, Mr. Beacom hopes that the “state-of-the-art” infrastructure set up by his company will be used for future gas projects or the development of renewable energy in the Black Sea.
BSOG holds two concessions approximately 120 km from the Romanian coast. Ironically, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague awarded part of the concessions to Romania in 2009. Thus, it has put an end to an old dispute with Ukraine.
An exception within the European Union, this Balkan country has significant onshore and offshore reserves, but must still turn to Russia in winter to cover about 20% of its consumption. Although Romania estimates the offshore potential at 200 billion cubic meters of gas, investors are cautious.
End of guaranteed energy?
The Austrian group OMV and its Romanian partner Romgaz, which has just taken over from the American giant ExxonMobil, have yet to decide whether they will go ahead with the Neptun Deep project, which is estimated to contain between 42 and 84 billion cubic metres.
Bucharest hopes that the two groups will start extraction as early as 2026, which would allow the country to “become totally independent in terms of gas” and even export the surplus to its neighbors, according to Energy Minister Virgil Popescu.
With a sizeable windfall for Romania, one of the poorest countries in the EU: a 2018 study by the auditing firm Deloitte put the revenue at $26 billion in government revenue over a 23-year period of planned operation.
After a great deal of prevarication, in May the Parliament finally amended a law unfavourable to offshore investments, which had led ExxonMobil to withdraw from Neptun Deep at the end of 2021, after having invested about $2 billion in it jointly with OMV.
“If we want to win against the Russians, we need energy,” says Bros. He believes that the days when “energy was guaranteed” in the EU may be over.
“The impact on our way of life will be extremely significant,” he stresses, and if other solutions are not implemented, “our citizens, affected by inflation and economic crisis, will turn away from Ukraine.”