A key pipeline designed to bring gas from Azerbaijan into Bulgaria via Greece is now only expected to be begin operations in July 2022, with up to six months of administrative and legal procedures needed once the pipeline is completed, the project developer said May 27.
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The Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria, or IGB, -- part of the much-heralded Southern Gas Corridor -- has been delayed several times, most recently due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The pipeline is now on track to be completed by the end of 2021, with around half of the total 182 km length already laid, the project developer ICGB said in a statement.
"After the completion of the construction activities at the end of 2021, a number of obligatory procedures and legal commitments will take place before commissioning, which will take between four and six months," ICGB said.
"According to the current schedule, the activities until commissioning will be completed by July 1, 2022, at the latest," it said.
ICGB is 50% co-owned by Bulgaria's state-owned BEH and a joint venture between Greece's DEPA and Italy's Edison.
The pipeline will be able to transport up to 3 Bcm/year in forward flow to Bulgaria -- with an option to increase that to 5 Bcm/year -- and up to 2 Bcm/year in reverse flow.
The project already has capacity of 1.57 Bcm/year booked and its completion will bring four new shippers to the Bulgarian market.
ICGB said the pre-commissioning procedures required include the establishment of a commercial dispatching system, full licensing of the project company for the gas transmission activity on the territory of the two countries (Greece and Bulgaria), certification of ICGB as a transmission network operator and introduction of the model of an independent transmission operator.
"At the same time, a comprehensive test of the infrastructure of the gas pipeline must be performed, including testing with actual supplies of natural gas," it said.
Despite the IGB not being available, Bulgaria did begin gas imports from Azerbaijan via the TAP pipeline at the end of 2020 as planned, providing Sofia with a diversified source of supply and reducing its dependence on Russian imports.
It was originally envisaged that Azeri gas would reach Bulgaria via Greece in the IGB from the start of 2021, but instead gas is flowing temporarily via the now-complete TAP pipeline into Bulgaria at the existing Kulata-Sidirokastro interconnection point on the border with Greece.
The new timeline for starting the pipeline means Bulgaria will have to continue to use a temporary route for significantly longer than it originally expected.
Bulgaria's Bulgargaz has a 25-year agreement with for the supply of 1 Bcm/year of gas from the Shah Deniz 2 project -- enough to meet around one third of Bulgaria's gas demand.
ICGB said May 27 that all "major" project implementation activities had made progress since the beginning of the year despite the complicated situation related to the pandemic.
"By the end of May, the welded sections of the pipeline have reached 145 km of the total length of the 182-km route," it said.
"The terrain is completely cleared, over 170 km of pipes have been distributed on site in preparation for further activities. 90 km is the length of the already fully completed sections laid in the trench," it said.
It added that the construction of the gas metering station in Stara Zagora and the dispatching center in Haskovo had started.
As well as bringing gas from Azerbaijan, the operator of the pipeline sees other sources of gas potentially feeding into it in the future.
These include the planned LNG terminal at Alexandroupolis in Greece and gas from the East Mediterranean -- potentially via a direct pipeline to Greece as well as LNG from Israel and Egypt.
Bulgaria has already imported regasified LNG from Greece's existing import terminal at Revithoussa.
"The project can attract gas traders from the US, Israel, Qatar and other countries. The full potential of the project to reach the maximum possible capacity will be when the LNG terminal near Alexandroupolis is ready in 2023 and will be further stimulated by the LNG terminals in Turkey," ICGB said.