Europe turns to Africa in bid to replace Russian natural gas

Oct 11, 2022, 11:47 AM | Updated: Oct 12, 2022, 3:43 am
FILE - Algerian soldiers stand guard during a visit for news media, organized by the Algerian autho...

FILE - Algerian soldiers stand guard during a visit for news media, organized by the Algerian authorities, at the gas plant in Ain Amenas, seen in background, Friday, Jan. 31, 2013. While Africa's natural gas reserves are vast and North African countries like Algeria have pipelines already linked to Europe, a lack of infrastructure and security challenges have long stymied producers in other parts of the continent from scaling up exports.(AP Photo, File)

(AP Photo, File)

              FILE - Algerian soldiers stand guard during a visit for news media, organized by the Algerian authorities, at the gas plant in Ain Amenas, seen in background, Friday, Jan. 31, 2013. While Africa's natural gas reserves are vast and North African countries like Algeria have pipelines already linked to Europe, a lack of infrastructure and security challenges have long stymied producers in other parts of the continent from scaling up exports.(AP Photo, File)
            
              FILE - Part of the gas plant in Ain Amenas IS seen during a visit for news media organized by the Algerian authorities ON Jan. 31, 2013. While Africa's natural gas reserves are vast and North African countries like Algeria have pipelines already linked to Europe, a lack of infrastructure and security challenges have long stymied producers in other parts of the continent from scaling up exports. (AP Photo, File)
            
              FILE - An Algerian soldier stands guard during a visit for news media, organized by the Algerian authorities, at the gas plant in Ain Amenas, seen in background, Friday, Jan. 31, 2013. While Africa's natural gas reserves are vast and North African countries like Algeria have pipelines already linked to Europe, a lack of infrastructure and security challenges have long stymied producers in other parts of the continent from scaling up exports.(AP Photo, File)
            
              FILE - Steam billows from a nuclear power plant next to utility lines in Doel, Belgium, on Oct. 11, 2021. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)
            
              FILE - The sun rises behind power poles on the outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany, on May 15, 2022. The 27-nation EU is bracing for the possibility of a complete Russian cutoff of the fuel that powers industry, generates electricity and heats homes. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)
            
              FILE - Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, background right, stands next to Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, background left, as Sonatrach chairman and chief executive Toufik Hakkar, left, and ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi sign an agreement on gas supplies, at Rome's Palazzo Chigi premier office, on May 26, 2022. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse via AP, File)
            
              FILE - An oil platform in Israel's offshore Leviathan gas field is seen from on board the Israeli Navy Ship Atzmaut as a submarine patrols, in the Mediterranean Sea, on Sept. 1, 2021. A new, three-party deal will see Israel send more gas to Europe via Egypt, which has facilities to liquefy it for export by sea. The EU says it will help the two countries increase gas production and exploration. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
            
              FILE - European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a round table meeting at an EU Summit in Prague, Czech Republic, on Oct 7, 2022. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
            
              FILE - The tanker Sun Arrows loads its cargo of liquefied natural gas from the Sakhalin-2 project in the port of Prigorodnoye, Russia, on Oct. 29, 2021. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (AP Photo, File)
            
              FILE - Workers install solar pannels on the roof of a house in Rivas Vaciamadrid, Spain, on Sept. 15, 2022. The 27-nation EU is bracing for the possibility of a complete Russian cutoff of the fuel that powers industry, generates electricity and heats homes. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)
            
              FILE - A sign reading "Nord Stream 2 Committed. Reliable. Safe." hangs above a painted map of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany at the natural gas receiving station in the Lubmin industrial estate in Lubmin, Germany, Nov. 16, 2021. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (Stefan Sauer/dpa via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipline are pictured in Lubmin, northern Germany, on Feb. 15, 2022. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
            
              FILE - From left, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte and French President Emmanuel Macron arrive for an EU Summit at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, on Oct 7, 2022. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)
            
              FILE - French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is welcomed by Algerian Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane as she arrives in Algiers, on Oct. 9, 2022. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum, File)
            
              FILE - A tugboats get into position on the Russian pipe-laying vessel "Fortuna", being used for construction work on the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, in the port of Wismar, Germany, on Jan 14, 2021. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports amid the war in Ukraine. (Jens Buettner/dpa via AP, File)

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — A new liquefied natural gas project off Africa’s western coast may only be 80% complete, but already the prospect of a new energy supplier has drawn visits from the leaders of Poland and Germany.

The initial field near Senegal and Mauritania’s coastlines is expected to contain about 15 trillion cubic feet (425 billion cubic meters) of gas, five times more than what gas-dependent Germany used in all of 2019. But production isn’t expected to start until the end of next year.

That won’t help solve Europe’s energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Still, Gordon Birrell, an executive for project co-developer BP, says the development “could not be more timely” as Europe seeks to reduce its reliance on Russian natural gas to power factories, generate electricity and heat homes.

“Current world events are demonstrating the vital role that (liquid gas) can play in underpinning the energy security of nations and regions,” he told an energy industry meeting in West Africa last month.

While Africa’s natural gas reserves are vast and North African countries like Algeria have pipelines already linked to Europe, a lack of infrastructure and security challenges have long stymied producers in other parts of the continent from scaling up exports. Established African producers are cutting deals or reducing energy use so they have more to sell to boost their finances, but some leaders warn that hundreds of millions of Africans lack electricity and supplies are needed at home.

Nigeria has Africa’s largest natural gas reserves, said Horatius Egua, a spokesman for the petroleum minister, though it accounts for only 14% of the European Union’s imports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, that comes by ship. Projects face the risk of energy thefts and high costs. Other promising countries like Mozambique have discovered large gas reserves only to see projects delayed by violence from Islamic militants.

Europe has been scrambling to secure alternative sources as Moscow has reduced natural gas flows to EU countries, triggering soaring energy prices and growing expectations of a recession. The 27-nation EU, whose energy ministers are meeting this week to discuss a gas price cap, is bracing for the possibility of a complete Russian cutoff but has still managed to fill gas reserves to 90%.

European leaders have flocked to countries like Norway, Qatar, Azerbaijan and especially those in North Africa, where Algeria has a pipeline running to Italy and another to Spain.

Italy signed a $4 billion gas deal with Algeria in July, a month after Egypt reached an agreement with the European Union and Israel to boost sales of LNG. Angola also has signed a gas deal with Italy.

While an earlier agreement allowed Italy’s biggest energy company to start production at two Algerian gas fields this week, it wasn’t clear when flows would start from the July deal because it lacked specifics, analysts said.

African leaders like Senegalese President Macky Sall want their countries to cash in on these projects even as they’re dissuaded from pursuing fossil fuels. They don’t want to export it all either — an estimated 600 million Africans lack access to electricity.

“It is legitimate, fair and equitable that Africa, the continent that pollutes the least and lags furthest behind in the industrialization process should exploit its available resources to provide basic energy, improve the competitiveness of its economy and achieve universal access to electricity,” Sall told the U.N. General Assembly last month.

Algeria is a major supplier — it and Egypt accounted for 60% of the natural gas production in Africa in 2020 — but it can’t offset Russian gas to Europe at this stage, said Mahfoud Kaoubi, professor of economics and specialist in energy issues at the University of Algiers.

“Russia has an annual production of 270 billion cubic meters — it’s huge,” Kaoubi said. “Algeria is 120 billion cubic meters, of which 70.50% is intended for consumption on the internal market.”

This year, Algeria is forecast to have piped exports of 31.8 billion cubic meters, according to Tom Purdie, a Europe, Middle East and Africa gas analyst with S&P Global Commodity Insights.

“The key concern here surrounds the level of production step-up that can be achieved, and the impact domestic demand could have” given how much gas Algeria uses at home, Purdie said.

Cash-strapped Egypt also is looking to export more natural gas to Europe, even regulating air conditioning in shopping malls and lights on streets to save energy and sell it instead.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly says Egypt hopes to bring in an additional $450 million a month in foreign currency by rerouting 15% of its domestic gas usage for export, state media reported.

More than 60% of Egypt’s natural gas consumption still is used by power stations to keep the country running. Most of its LNG goes to Asian markets.

A new, three-party deal will see Israel send more gas to Europe via Egypt, which has facilities to liquefy it for export by sea. The EU says it will help the two countries increase gas production and exploration.

In Nigeria, ambitious plans have yet to yield results despite years of planning. The country exported less than 1% of its vast natural gas reserves last year.

A proposed 4,400-kilometer-long (2,734-mile-long) pipeline that would take Nigerian gas to Algeria through Niger has been stalled since 2009, mainly because of its estimated cost of $13 billion.

Many fear that even if completed, the Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline would face security risks like Nigeria’s oil pipelines, which have come under frequent attacks from militants and vandals.

The same challenges would hinder increased gas exports to Europe, said Olufola Wusu, a Lagos-based oil and gas expert.

“If you look at the realities on ground — issues that have to do with crude oil theft — and others begin to question our ability to supply gas to Europe,” he said.

Wusu urged pursuing LNG, calling it the “most profitable” gas strategy so far.

Even that isn’t without issues: In July, the head of Nigeria LNG Limited, the country’s largest natural gas firm, said its plant was producing at just 68% of capacity, mainly because its operations and earnings have been stifled by oil theft.

In the south, Mozambique is slated to become a major exporter of LNG after significant deposits were found along its Indian Ocean coast in 2010. France’s TotalEnergies invested $20 billion and started work to extract gas that would be liquefied in a plant it was building in Palma, in the northern Cabo Delgado province.

But Islamic extremist violence forced TotalEnergies to indefinitely scupper the project last year. Mozambican officials have pledged to secure the Palma area to allow work to resume.

Italian firm Eni, meanwhile, pressed ahead with plans to pump and liquefy some of its gas deposits discovered in Mozambique in 2011 and 2014. Eni established a platform in the Indian Ocean 50 miles (80 kilometers) offshore, away from the violence in Cabo Delgado.

It’s the first floating LNG facility in the deep waters off Africa, Eni says, with gas liquefaction capacity of 3.4 million tons per year.

The platform liquefied its first gas on Oct. 2, according to Africa Energy, and the first shipment is expected to depart for Europe in mid-October.

___

AP reporters Chinedu Asadu in Abuja, Nigeria; Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg; and Colleen Barry in Milan contributed.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Europe turns to Africa in bid to replace Russian natural gas