US diplomat: Mediterranean gas pipeline to Europe not viable

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U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland talks to the media during a press conference after a meeting with Cyprus' president Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on Thursday, April 7, 2022. Nuland is in Cyprus as part of a five-nation tour to boost bilateral security and economic ties and to rally support for war-torn Ukraine. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA – A proposed pipeline to deliver natural gas from deposits in the east Mediterranean to European markets is too expensive, not economically viable and will take too long to help countries seeking alternatives to Russian gas any time soon, a senior U.S. diplomat said Thursday.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades that countries in the region have understood that dependence on Russian oil and gas is “an extremely bad bet” following its invasion of Ukraine.

But she said the proposed East Med pipeline project wouldn’t be able to immediately deliver the gas Europe now needs to swiftly wean itself of Russian energy because it would run in very deep water and construction would take more than a decade.

“And frankly, we don’t have 10 years, but in 10 years from now, we want to be far, far more green and far more diverse” in energy sources, Nuland said. “So what we’re looking for within the hydrocarbon context are options that can get us more gas, more oil for this short transition period.”

The idea for the 1,900-kilometer (1,300-mile), $6 billion pipeline to send natural gas — which is used to heat homes, generate electricity and keep industry churning — from recently discovered deposits off Israel and Cyprus was spawned several years ago between European Union members Greece and Cyprus, whose leaders signed a deal in 2020 to proceed with its planning.

Nuland’s remarks appear to effectively shelve the project. Nuland said the U.S. and regional partners including Israel, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey are looking for alternative ways to get gas to markets.

One project that has U.S. backing is an electric cable linking Israel and Cyprus to the European continent.

Cyprus Energy Minister Natasa Pilides told The Associated Press last October that transferring gas by pipeline to Egyptian processing plants where it would be liquefied for export aboard ships is the “most likely option” to quickly get gas to mainland Europe.

The head of ExxonMobil’s Cyprus arm, Varnavas Theodossiou, told the AP in February that natural gas will remain an important energy source through 2050 and quantities found off Cyprus could reach markets through a pipeline or by liquefying it for transport by ship.

ExxonMobil and partner Qatar Petroleum are licensed to carry out exploratory drilling in two of 13 areas — known as blocks — inside Cyprus' exclusive economic zone off the island nation’s southern coastline. ExxonMobil has discovered one deposit estimated to contain 5-8 trillion cubic feet of gas.

A consortium made up of France's TotalEnergies and Italy’s Eni have been granted exploration licenses for seven blocks and have made one significant discovery.

Chevron and partner Shell are licensed for one block, where a confirmed well is estimated to hold 4.1 trillion cubic feet of gas.