Czech Republic seeks to ease some Slovak worries over gas pipelines

Illustrative photo: European Commission

Czech and Slovak ministers of industry met in Prague to discuss one the main issues that concern them both: energy security and the possible risks that some of their gas delivery peace of mind might be undermined by Russia.

Illustrative photo: European Commission
Czech minister of Industry and Trade Jan Mládek and his newly installed Slovak counterpart Peter Žiga focused Wednesday on a proposal from Slovak gas pipeline operator Eustream for the creation of a virtual gas pipeline link between the Czech Republic and Austria.

The virtual pipeline would use existing Slovak pipelines to link the Czech Republic and Austria rather than proceeding with a proposed new physical pipeline, the so-called BACI pipeline or Bidirectional Austria-Czech Interconnection.

The real physical BACI pipeline is being pondered by Czech gas pipeline company NET4GAS and its Austrian equivalent, Gas Connect Austria. It would be a short pipeline of just around 12 kilometers in the Czech Republic in south Moravia with another around 49 kilometres in Austria ending in the giant gas hub at Baumgarten, Austria.

NET4GAS has carried technical evaluations and probed shipper interest in this potential pipeline link. And while there might be sufficient interest in shipping gas through it from the Czech Republic to Austria there is minimum interest in paying for flows in the opposite direction.

Nevertheless, the project, which might be completed as early as 2019 and operational by 2020, is still on the books at NET4GAS, it is on is list of investment projects through to 2023, and it is creating a lot of unease in Slovakia.

Bratislava is already worried about being transformed from an important gas transit country, earning lucrative revenues from pipeline charges, to a backwater. The main threat is the possible ending of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine and Russia’s redirecting of shipments through the existing Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic and the proposed new Nord Stream 2 link that Russia and Germany are backing. But a real BACI pipeline would be another blow as well to Slovakia since its pipeline network would once again be in the wrong place and start looking redundant.

Gas pipelines have already created some rifts between Prague and Bratislava in recent months. Prague was seen to be slow and lagging in its initial opposition to the Nord Stream 2 project as Slovakia sought to undermine it in Brussels as a move undermining European gas security. The backing for a virtual BACI could mend some of the damaged fences.