AFP: Bulgaria and Greece break ground on long-delayed gas pipeline

Bulgaria and Greece on Wednesday launched construction of a long-delayed pipeline to link their gas networks, considered key for weaning Sofia off its heavy energy dependence on Russia, AFP reported.

"This interconnector will lead to real diversification of gas deliveries," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said at the groundbreaking ceremony, which was also attended by his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras.

EU member Bulgaria has been criticised for its almost total dependence on Russia for its annual consumption of about three billion cubic metres of gas.

It receives the gas via Ukraine -- a route that Russian giant Gazprom plans to abandon in 2020 when its TurkStream project through Turkey becomes operational.

In a bid to secure alternative deliveries, the Balkan country had long planned to link its gas network to those of its neighbours -- Greece, Serbia and Romania -- but the projects were severely delayed by administrative hurdles.

The new 182-kilometre (113-mile) IGB pipeline between the Bulgarian town of Dimitrovgrad and the Greek town of Komitini is scheduled to open late next year.

It will allow Bulgaria to receive Caspian Sea gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field as well as LNG from various sources via terminals in Greece.

The project will cost 220 million euros ($245 million) and will have an initial annual capacity of three billion cubic metres of gas, which could be increased to five billion.

In a bid to increase security of gas deliveries, Bulgaria's state gas network operator Bulgartransgaz also chose a Saudi-led consortium in April to build a new 474-kilometre pipeline from the country's Turkish to Serbian borders in the hope of hooking it up to TurkStream and becoming a transit point to Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

The project is part of a new energy strategy that also envisages the construction of a gas trading hub near Varna on the Black Sea.

The gas interconnector between Bulgaria and Greece will play a key role for the whole region and Europe, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said at a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras before the official start of the construction, the government press office said. "The project is of strategic importance not only for our two countries but also for the whole of Europe, including the Western Balkan countries," said Prime Minister Borisov, pointing out that the interconnector would lead to a real diversification of the sources and routes for natural gas supply.

During their meeting, the two heads of government also noted the key importance of the gas interconnector as part of the common Balkan projects and pointed out the role of the construction and the roads, railways, ports and digital infrastructure for connectivity and stability in the Balkans.

The construction of Greece - Bulgaria interconnection gas pipeline aims to ensure diversification not only of the routes but also of the natural gas sources for Bulgaria and the region. As part of the development of the Southern Gas Corridor, through IGB Bulgaria its neighbouring countries will also have access to alternative supplies from the Caspian region as well as from existing or future liquefied gas terminals.

The gas pipeline between Bulgaria and Greece is 182 km long, 150 km in Bulgaria, connecting the Greek gas network in Komotini with the Bulgarian gas network in Stara Zagora. Its technical capacity is 3 to 5 billion cubic metres. The total cost of the project is EUR 220 million.

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