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interconnector greece-bulgaria (igb) pipeline inauguration

Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) Pipeline Inauguration

Author:Samantha Fanger

Oct 19, 2022

Image source: Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis

The opening ceremony marking the completion and operation of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) Pipeline was held in Sofia on October 1. The IGB is connected to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and will provide Greece, Bulgaria, and surrounding countries with a reliable natural gas supply.  As of October 9, the pipeline has carried over 303,000,000 kWh of gas. The ICGB Executive Officers report that within the first week of operation, the interconnector is “on schedule and no technical issues have been encountered."

The pipeline is part of a greater effort to diversify Europe’s energy resources as European sanctions against Russian oil and gas producers fuel the energy crisis at hand. "The quantities of natural gas supplied daily by ICGB via the interconnector provide Bulgaria and the wider region with a new reliable source of gas, helping us to ensure security and diversification of supply in a difficult period both for the European countries in general and for businesses and individual consumers as well," said ICGB Executive Officers Teodora Georgieva and George Satlas.

The IGB has a total capacity to transport 3 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually, which could supply most of Bulgaria’s winter energy consumption. Half of this capacity is scheduled to be transported under long-term contracts for as long as 25 years. It is an extension of the TAP, a part of the Southern Gas Corridor which supplies Caspian gas to Europe. The interconnector is a critical route that will contribute to the deal between the European Union (EU) and Azerbaijan made in July to double the supply of Azeri gas to Europe by 2027.

The 93-mile-long pipeline, which extends from Komotini, Greece, and Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, has the potential to increase capacity to 5 bcm yearly after the construction of a compressor station in Komotini, which will be complete by 2024, and the commissioning of a new liquefied natural gas terminal (LNG) near Alexandroupolis. Currently, the pipeline flows in the North-South direction, but with changes, it could also support reverse flow transport.

Plans for the new transport route were outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Greek and Bulgarian governments in 2009. Though the “final investment decision” for the pipeline was made in 2015, ICGB AD’s construction could not commence until environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures, technical designs, and permits were acquired. The project was supported by the Trans-European Networks for Energy and co-financed by the European Energy Programme for Recovery under the EU.

Apart from its strategic, practical uses, the Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, said the pipeline serves as a “milestone of regional cooperation.” The pipeline will supply a direct line of transport from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria for the first time and provide relief to Bulgaria, which has struggled to meet energy demands over the past few months after Russia's Gazprom cut off deliveries. Simson added that the “new route will help to strengthen security of supply to the region, including the Western Balkans, Ukraine, and Moldova."

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year sparked Western sanctions on Russian gas and oil. These sanctions, intended to pressure the Kremlin to cease its invasion of Ukraine, have been met with Russian halts on critical gas pipelines. As Russia continues to be an unreliable source of energy resources, the West has taken great strides to end its long-standing reliance, turning instead to alternative countries in the region, like Azerbaijan, for resources. Many experts believe that this will be a permanent consequence of the invasion. “There’s much more of a commitment today toward eliminating dependence on Russian energy than before the war in Ukraine,” the former Ambassador to Azerbaijan and former Special Envoy of the U.S. Secretary of State for Eurasian Energy, Richard Morningstar, said in an interview with Caspian Policy Center (CPC).

Still, this process cannot happen overnight. The IGB pipeline is a significant step towards enabling Caspian energy resources to reach parts of Europe in desperate need as winter months approach. It is also an indication of widespread commitment to taking substantial steps to diversify energy resources for the future. "This pipeline is a game changer. It's a game changer for Bulgaria and for Europe's energy security. And it means freedom. It means freedom from dependency on Russian gas," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during the inauguration ceremony.


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