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Serbian regulator approves Gastrans as independent gas grid operator


Gastrans will operate Serbian section of TurkStream expansion

Work on the pipeline began in May: ministry

Flows already into Bulgaria, Greece, North Macedonia

  • Author
  • Stuart Elliott
  • Editor
  • Alisdair Bowles
  • Commodity
  • Natural Gas

London — The Serbian energy regulator has officially approved Gastrans -- which will operate the Serbian section of the TurkStream pipeline extension project -- as an independent gas transport operator.

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The AERS adopted Friday a decision to certify Gastrans as a TSO, it said in a statement posted to its website.

Gastrans -- 51% owned by a fully-owned Gazprom subsidiary and 49% by Serbian gas company Srbijagas -- is building the 403-km pipeline in Serbia designed to bring gas carried by the TurkStream pipeline from Serbia's border with Bulgaria to its border with Hungary.

Work on the Serbian pipeline began in May, according to Serbian energy minister Aleksandar Antic. Antic said in October the pipeline would be completed by end-2019 but there has been no public announcement on the progress of the line, with the ministry and Gastrans unavailable for comment.

Flow data

The 31.5 Bcm/year TurkStream gas pipeline began commercial flows on January 1 and has largely replaced the volumes that used to come to southeast Europe in the Trans-Balkan line via Ukraine.

Gazprom said on January 27 that the first 1 Bcm of Russian gas had flowed through TurkStream, implying average flows of around 37 million cu m/d -- less than half of its 86 million cu m/d capacity.

Gazprom also said that some 54% of the volume in the period January 1-27 was delivered to the Turkish market and about 46% to the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

That suggests average flows into Turkey of 20 million cu m/d into Bulgaria of 17 million cu m/d.

There are no available data for showing the flow of gas via TurkStream into Turkey, but European gas TSO association Entsog publishes data for gas entering Bulgaria from Turkey.

According to Entsog data, flows at the Strandzha/Malkoclar interconnection point have averaged 16 million cu m/d from Turkey into Bulgaria since January 1.

An average of 4 million cu m/d of that volume was then flowed on to Greece via the Kulata/Sidirokastro interconnection point.

Another 1 million cu m/d on average flowed out of Bulgaria into North Macedonia.

In 2019, Gazprom's sales to Bulgaria were 2.387 Bcm -- or an average of 7 million cu m/d -- meaning net flows into the Bulgaria of 11 million cu m/d via TurkStream are currently higher than last year's supply.

By contrast, Gazprom's sales into Greece last year were 2.413 Bcm (7 million cu m/d), so slightly higher than the volume coming to Greece via TurkStream.

North Macedonia's sales were 0.296 Bcm -- or an average of a little under 1 million cu m/d -- in line with its current deliveries.

In an investor presentation earlier this month, Gazprom said TurkStream was expected to reach full capacity by October 2022.

It confirmed that TurkStream had already delivered gas to Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and North Macedonia.

Supplies onward to Serbia and Hungary are expected by December this year, it said.

Bulgaria prices

The change in entry point for Russian gas supplies to Bulgaria comes as Gazprom and Bulgargaz remain in talks over pricing.

According to a report in Russian newspaper Kommersant, Gazprom is preparing to switch Bulgaria away from oil-indexation to a pricing mechanism based on European hub prices.

This would be in line with pledges made by Gazprom in 2018 to settle an antitrust case brought by the European Commission.

According to reports, gas price reductions have been noted for seven countries in central and eastern Europe that were part of the case, with the exception so far of Bulgaria.

Gazprom would risk having the antitrust case reopened if it did not honor its commitment to Bulgaria.

Neither Gazprom nor Bulgargaz commented on the state of the talks.

But a European Commission spokesperson told S&P Global Platts: "The Commission is continuing to monitor the implementation of the Gazprom commitments."

Bulgaria is also busy building its section of the TurkStream onshore expansion.

Work started in September following a delay caused by an appeal against the contract award, with a small extension completed allowing for TurkStream flows to move into Bulgaria and onto Greece and North Macedonia.

The bulk of the work will see a 474-km segment built to the border with Serbia.

According to sources, Bulgartransgaz could be looking to a two-phase approach -- first using its existing main ring and a short spur to the border with Serbia to start flows more quickly, followed by a second phase to build the main trunk line east-west across the country.

Bulgartransgaz could not be reached for comment.