April 13. 2024. 5:35

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Bulgaria, Greece revive forgotten Russian oil pipeline project

The project for an oil pipeline between Burgas in Bulgaria and Alexandroupolis in Greece has been officially revived by Bulgarian Energy Minister Rosen Hristov and his Greek counterpart, Kostas Skrekas, following several months of negotiations.

On Thursday, the pair signed an agreement to create a working group of the two countries to study the possibilities of implementing the project. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev who met his counterpart Katerina Sakellaropoulou as well as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was also in Greece as the agreement was signed.

“The Alexandroupolis – Burgas oil pipeline is of strategic importance to Bulgaria because it provides an opportunity for real diversification and alternative supplies of non-Russian oil to the refinery in Burgas – the largest in the Balkans,” Radev said at a briefing with Mitsotakis.

The oil pipeline would increase “the security and efficiency of supplies because it avoids the long wait and the risk of tankers passing through the Black Sea straits,” he added.

The pipeline is to deliver oil to the Russian refinery in Burgas, which is to be delivered by tankers to the Aegean port. In the long run, it aims to completely replace Russian crude oil imports by sea, particularly as Bulgaria has until 2024 before its current exemption from the EU embargo on Russian oil runs out.

Bulgaria is also ready to cooperate with Greece for the large-scale project of transferring green energy from North Africa, and the Middle East through Greece to Europe.

At the end of last year, Russian oil company Lukoil vigorously backed the idea of resuming work on the oil pipeline construction project. Lukoil claims the project could help replace the Russian oil it currently imports by tanker through the port of Rosenets.

Years ago, the project was designed to bring Russian oil to the Aegean, bypassing the Bosphorus. But it never came to life, as it was stopped by a local referendum on ecological grounds. This time the project is designed to bring oil from the Middle East and other sources via the Greek Aegean port to the Bulgarian port city of Burgas on the Black Sea, where the only Bulgarian refinery, property of Lukoil, is located.

Before it was revived, the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project was part of the so-called “grand slam” of a Russian energy project in Bulgaria, which also included the Belene NPP and the South Stream gas pipeline. The Belene NPP will not be built, but with the delivery of the reactors, there have been talks of using them for a new nuclear unit at the Kozloduy NPP.

In the meantime, it became clear that some residents of the town of Pomorie are ready to organise a new referendum against the construction of the oil pipeline with Greece.

“The direction Alexandroupolis-Bourgas is not bad, but nobody knows anything about the idea yet. We are waiting for more information”, Todor Georgiev from the National Association Bulgarian Black Sea, which represents the interests of part of the hotel business, commented to Nova News.

Georgiev recalled that in 2009 the municipality of Pomorie gathered the necessary number of votes against the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.

“However, at that time Russian tankers were expected to unload oil in the gulf, and the gulf would become an oil gulf. Pomorie people managed to oppose three countries – Russia, Bulgaria and Greece, and we stopped the project,” Georgiev said. The route will pass through a number of protected territories, but Pomorie people understood that Bulgaria must secure independent sources of energy, he added.

“It’s great that this project bypasses the tanker route across the Bosphorus, where very high tolls are collected. But first, the Lukoil refinery in Burgas had to be nationalised and become Bulgarian – only in this way can it be guaranteed that there will be a reduction in prices for Bulgarian consumers,” energy expert Krasimir Manov told Nova News.

“Because now it comes out that President Rumen Radev is doing the work of a Russian company – Lukoil. Boyko Borissov (ex-prime minister) went down in history as the statesman who built a gas pipeline for Gazprom, and Rumen Radev will remain as the man who built an oil pipeline for Lukoil,” Manov added.

“There are fears that this oil pipeline, at some point, may once again become Burgas – Alexandroupolis and start transporting Russian oil,” Valentin Nikolov, the former executive director of Bulgarian Energy Holding and the Kozloduy NPP, has said.

“We must limit such an option, because if the geopolitical situation changes, Russia will, in any case, show interest in this oil pipeline,” Nikolov warned.

(Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)