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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The end of the gas crisis?

A little emotional post, since Bulgaria was hit the hardest from the stopping of Russian gas trough Ukraine. That's why I'd like to give you some not so dry details on the crisis, just to let you know about the extent of the damage. But let's make it chronological and somewhat official. The news are followed by my emotional comments, because the situation was really bad home. And the moral is still pending. So, I beg you to read trough the whole post, because the next victim might and probably will be you!

The beginning of the crisis was on 6th January.The reason? Russia claims Ukraina is stealing gas and Ukraina doesn't want to pay interests and higher gas prices. The result-Putin halts the gas delivery trough Ukraina - which happens to be the only pipe for some countries like those on the Balkans.

South East Europe shivers as Russia cuts off gas

6 January 2009

Just as Europe is experiencing a particularly cold winter, all Russian gas supplies to Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia were halted overnight (6 January) following a row between Moscow and Kiev over pricing, reports Dnevnik, EurActiv's partner in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria has been hit most severely by the spat, as it is the only affected country not to possess alternative supply routes which bypass Ukraine and has no liquefied gas terminal of its own. Moreover, the country has just one, limited-capacity gas storage facility at Chiren which can provide adequate supply of gas for up to a month.

The Balkan region has experienced particularly cold and snowy conditions this winter, with temperatures in Bulgaria dropping to less than -15 degrees Celsius overnight.

Romania has also been hit by the dispute. The country's natural gas distribution company Transgaz announced that deliveries to the Isaccea entry point had been entirely halted. Romania normally receives about a third of its gas from Russia, while domestic production covers about 65 percent of its needs.

Russian gas supplies to Turkey via a pipeline across Ukraine have been totally cut off. Turkey had increased supplies of Russian gas delivered via the Blue Stream pipeline, which passes under the Black Sea with 8 million cubic metres per day. The minister said Turkey had not experienced any interruptions to the 15 million cubic metres of natural gas provided each day by Iran.

Elsewhere, Serbia and Croatia also reported that deliveries of Russian gas had stopped completely.

In Austria only around 10% of Russian natural gas is being delivered to Austria's Baumgarten distribution hub, OMV said.

Gazprom has reportedly reduced supplies to Ukraine to the amount that it estimates is illegally siphoned off by Kiev. Ukraine, meanwhile, claims that Gazprom itself has reduced supplies to Europe by a third. The EU at first tried to keep its distance from the dispute, preferring not to become an arbiter in the conflict. source

My comment: There are many sides of this problem. First and foremost, it's very cold this week in Bulgaria and on the Balkans as a whole. Right now, it's -10C and it's the afternoon. The central heating in the big cities is working only on gas. Russian gas to be precise. What's even worst, the electrical system in the old buildings was never planned to serve for heating and as a result, many cables burnt out leaving buildings without ELECTRICITY!!! That, combined with the lack of heating makes the winter very cold! I won't say we were in emergency-we weren't. We're very durable people. But it was very cold, all right. The schools had to close, kindergardens also -thus the parents of children couldn't go to work, the heating was minimal for few days. Even the hot water wasn't hot. The first day with no gas, I took a shower in the night and I showered with the maximal hot water available! And it was merely warm. It was very disappointing.

Now the heating centrals switched the fuels to stuff that are available and things are fine until we have the reserves. But there comes the second point- the business is without gas thanks to the crisis and the obvious priority to provide heating for the people. Thus they are loosing millions just for days. The more the dispute goes on, the more money they'll loose.

Then it comes the political side. We were supposed to have reserves for around a month of limited consumption. It turns out that somebody happily stole the reserves and now we have reserves only for a couple of weeks. The politicians of course won't take charge, they never do. What's even worst, they are too weak to make the right decision to restart the nuclear plant in Kozloduy-the reactors have years of life ahead of them and they are safe. You think it's because it's against the EU accession contract? Not really. The problem is that some Bulgarian oligarch ( I don't know who, though) bought himself few heating centrals (they use gas) and if the country gets on electrical heating, he'll loose money, because he can't compete with the prices of electricity coming from the nuclear plants. What's even worst, the cities electrical system is so old and inadequate, it's not going to survive the power consummation. So, we're screwed from many many sides. But for me, the starting of the nuclear reactors was the best solution to the critical situation. Not so for our ridiculously lousy MPs.

Finally, I don't understand how the EU could down play the crisis. Bulgaria is a part of the EU! Even if Romania has enough gas to make herself comfortable and Greece could suck from whatever they are sucking, we're still going trough some very big troubles! Aren't we enough for Europe to act? Where' s the solidarity! We pay what Russia wants us to, we're freezing! That's hardly fair. I want to ask Europeans that read that to tell me honestly, do you think that the EU should have stayed out of the problem? Do you think that new memebers are not worthy the trouble? If you think so, then you have no idea what the EU is all about. If we're not helping each other, no one will.

Anyway. Let's move on in the chronology.

Bulgaria threatens to restart nuclear plant

7 January 2009

Hit worst by the current Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, Bulgaria is poised to restart one of the nuclear reactors at its Kozloduy nuclear power plant, the closure of which was one of the conditions of the country's EU accession.

As the gas supply from Russia to the country was shut off completely during the night of 5-6 January, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov yesterday (6 January) declared that according to Article 36 of the country's accession treaty, the decommissioned reactors could be reactivated in crisis situations such as the present one.

Without specifically mentioning Kozloduy NPP, the article reads that for a period of three years after accession (Bulgaria joined in January 2007), if "difficulties arise which are serious and liable to persist in any sector of the economy or which could bring about serious deterioration in the economic situation of a given area, Bulgaria […] may apply for authorisation to take protective measures in order to rectify the situation and adjust the sector concerned to the economy of the internal market".

A team of experts is already working at Kozloduy NPP amid preparations to restart the reactors, according to Bulgarian press reports. Ivan Genov, director of Kozloduy NPP, said it would take a month to restart unit four, which was shut down on the eve of Bulgaria's accession on 31 December 2006.

According to the country's constitution, the Bulgarian president alone cannot decide on issues such as restarting Kozloduy's closed units. Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev has so far maintained his silence over the issue.

European Commission spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas said yesterday that he would not comment on the reopening of Kozloduy's units as long as the EU executive had not received an official request to do so from Bulgaria. He agreed that the situation in the country was "a crisis. source

My comment: Obviously I agree with the President, because the priority of the government in such a moment should be to take care of the population. Unfortunately our fearful MPs didn't make the right decision when it was the time and now it doesn't matter. The gas is coming tomorrow. One more missed opportunity. At least for the moment.

EU sends observers to monitor gas, Gaza

8 January 2009

As was the case during last summer's Georgia crisis, the EU has once again responded to the first international challenges of 2009 by sending observers, this time to monitor the borders between Gaza and Egypt, and Russia and Ukraine to supervise the supply of gas intended for Europe.

Yesterday (7 January) the EU finally agreed to send observers to monitor the supply of gas earmarked for Europe. Analysts had been tipping Russia to suggest such a move for some time. At first, the EU appeared reluctant to get involved in what it saw as a bilateral dispute, but its position changed after the situation began to deteriorate (EurActiv 07/01/08).

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso revealed yesterday in Prague that following a series of telephone conversations with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko, an EU monitoring mission will be sent to monitor gas flows.

The Russian position now appears not to favour the restoration of supplies until international monitors are put in place in Ukraine.

Commission spokespeople said yesterday that although the mandate of the observers to be sent to monitor the gas row had not yet been determined, the Union would able to dispatch them fairly soon. source

My comment: Well, the observers are already on place and the word has spread that this morning (January 13th) the gas is flowing to Europe again. I don't see what was the problem to dispatch those observers on the first place. It's logical and easy move, then why not doing it?! I don't want to accuse Europe in anything, I just don't understant irrationality.

Czechs take lead in chaotic gas crisis troubleshooting

9 January 2009

Telephone diplomacy achieved optimistic but inconclusive results yesterday night (8 January), after Czech Prime Minister and current EU presidency holder Mirek Topolánek announced from Prague that he had reached a breakthrough with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

A Czech Presidency statement says that the European Union and Russia agreed upon conditions for the deployment of monitors at every Ukrainian location that is relevant for the flow of gas, allowing Russian gas supplies to EU to be restored. Topolánek coordinated his mediation with the help of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the statement says.

The surprising announcement came after earlier talks had collapsed in Brussels, as acknowledged by Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Czech Energy Minister Martin Riman at a somewhat depressing press event.

Czech Minister Riman did not rule out yesterday that the Union could take a decision to revive the mothballed nuclear units of the Bulgarian central of Kozloduy, should the crisis continue. source

My comment: I wonder is the Czech Presidency is in favour of our Nuclear Power Plant. After all, everyone knows it's safe and that it was closed according to very odd and unofficial requirements that were coming out more from pure sadism than from anything else. I hope at least something good will come from the odd EU Presidency.

So, the net result of the crisis. Bulgaria was without gas for around a week. During this time, we were all in the cold, we all understood how little Russia cares about us (those of us that had doubts on the issue) and most of the people got little crazy about Nabucco. The truth however is that Russia isn't guilty for our absurd lack of reserves and any form of diversity in the energy supply. Bulgaria has enourmous potential for wind and water renewables, however, they don't stand a chance because of the various oligarchs around. I don't mind rich people, even (especially) very rich people. The point is that there must be a balance between personal and social interests and when the balance is missing for too long, the food chain get upside down. I hope this crisis is a good moral for our politicians, though I doubt it.

I hope also it will serve for the EU to reconsider its attitude toward Iran- the only country that can supply Nabucco with gas. Otherwise, whatever we say or do won't matter- Russia is the biggest gas producer around and we'll always be in her feet.

Of course, I don't blame Russia for what it did- every country should protect its own interests as a priority. The point is that we're not protecting ours. We're helpless and we're not doing anything about it. We're singing Nabucco without accepting the real implications - we have to accept Iran as our ally. We're talking about renewables, without any real investments into the sector, without any real support for the energy efficient industries and without any real penalty for the polluters (because usually if you pollute with CO2, you're very likely to not be energy efficient at all!). Where are we going with this? Nowhere. Sure, Bulgaria was hit the harderst. But let me tell you one thing- Bulgaria can last without heating for months- we'll suffer, we'll beg for help, but we'll survive. Tell me honestly, how much German industry can last without gas? How much the whole central Europe can last without Russian gas and oil? Not much! So before dismissing the problem as belateral dispute with Balkan casualties, think about the next time Russia will stop the gas supply. Who will she target and for how long!

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