Europe courts Algerian gas cooperation

Europe courts Algerian gas cooperation

Officials from Algeria, the European Union and energy firms meet in Algiers in an attempt to get their

energy cooperation back on track and find ways to pump more gas north again after years of dwindling


Algeria is seen as a natural partner for the European Union as it looks to diversify energy supplies after

the Ukraine conflict once again exposed the risks of relying too much on the bloc’s top supplier, Russia.

At the moment, the north African country is the EU’s third biggest gas supplier behind Russia and

Norway yet its export capacity through its three pipelines across the Mediterranean Sea is widely


In 2013, the EU estimated Algeria exported 25 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas via pipelines to

Spain and Italy, or less than half the capacity of 54 bcm, while it exported 15 bcm of liquefied natural gas

out of capacity of 40 bcm.

Declining European demand has been a factor cutting into Algerian exports, but the amount of gas for

export has also been hit by a combination of depleting production from mature fields, and Algeria’s

rapidly expanding need for gas to generate power.

Algeria has dozens of projects the government expects to generate new production and help keep its

flow of gas exports to Europe stable. But the problem has been attracting investment needed to

discover and develop new fields and maintain old ones.


Oil industry sources say the problems Algeria has struggled with over the past decade have stemmed

from a combination of a glacial bureaucracy, tough contract terms, security worries, delayed projects

and turmoil at state oil company Sonatrach.

Tuesday’s forum brings together Algerian and EU officials as well as oil companies to discuss gas,

renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, though most recognize this will just be a first step on

the road to better cooperation.

“There is perfect awareness on both sides of what the challenges are,” EU ambassador to Algiers Marek

Skolil said. “This is something strategic, that this is a first or second chapter in our strategic energy

dialogue and it will continue.”

According to a Sonatrach document from a March meeting with EU officials, oil companies had six areas

of concern, including lack of quality offers and clearer data, rigid contracts, fiscal terms, taxes, and the

need for more flexibility.

“They can’t do much about the price of oil, but they can something about the ease of operation,” said

one foreign oil industry source.

Still, there have been signs of progress since last year, industry sources, EU and Algerian officials say.

Talks between technical teams are working on common ground. Sonatrach, long hampered by rapid

management turnover and scandals, is starting to appear a little more agile, offering direct negotiations

as a more flexible approach.

And gas exports to Europe are rising, Algerian officials say, helped by new fields. Sonatrach says

shipments will grow 15 percent to more than 50 billion cubic meters in 2016. Shipments by pipeline and

LNG were up 30 percent in the first 4 months.


The collapse in oil prices does risk making Algeria less attractive for companies just when the country

needs them most, but analysts say the leaner times, and falling government revenues, may now also

prompt more flexibility from the state.

“This is about how to make this more attractive and have more European companies investing,”

Mustapha Hanifi, the energy ministry’s hydrocarbons director said when asked about any possible policy

changes. “Any law can adapt to international environment, we are in the process of examining.”

Algeria’s economy is still emerging from the centralised, model after 1962 independence, and its gas and

oil revenues pay for a vast welfare system of subsidies that has helped the government calm social


Algeria’s leaders are already debating how to manage after lower prices slashed the energy revenue that

accounts for 60 percent of the budget. Analysts say reformers want to open up the economy while the

old guard is resisting anything more than stop-gap measures.

Global oil price boom and bust cycles have prompted policy shifts in the past. A 2005 hydrocarbons law

opened up the industry, only to be reversed by presidency with tougher terms, more state control and a

windfall tax.

After a poor 2011 bidding round for fields, Algeria changed its hydrocarbons law again to offer more

incentives. But a bid in 2014 only got 4 offers, with some companies complaining about a lack of

transparent, quality data. A 2015 bid was suspended.

Security also remains a concern after the 2013 al-Qaeda attack on In Amenas gasfield, which killed 40 oil

workers and left the plant still without its third production train.

After In Amenas, Algerian forces reinforced security, allowing foreign contractors to return. But a rocket

attack in March on Krechba gasfield showed how sensitive security remains, prompting BP and Statoil to

pull out workers again.

“There are still concerns that they are not using better technology readily available for early warning

systems,” one oil industry source said. “It’s not always easy to attract the right foreign, high-skilled

contractors in this environment.” algerian-gas- cooperation/

Share Button