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Why is the U.S. Pulling the Plug on the EastMed Pipeline?

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands in Athens after signing the EastMed agreement. Credit: AMNA

The ambitious EastMed pipeline project for bringing natural gas from Israel directly to Europe via sea is now being undermined by the United States.

Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement in early January 2020 to construct the EastMed pipeline, to be completed by 2025, with an estimated cost of $7 billion.

The project has been hailed by the European Union, as the pipeline would limit Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

The U.S. had been supportive of the project from the very beginning. Frank Fannon, then-Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) was present at a meeting in Athens in August 2019 when the project was agreed on.

However, it appears there is a change of line now, with the U.S. expressing reservations about the pipeline, proposing more green-friendly alternatives.

At the same time, some experts argue that the cost of the 1,250 kilometers (777 miles) of the EastMed pipeline would be hard to cover.

The U.S is proposing power cable interconnection

According to a Kathimerini newspaper report, citing diplomatic sources, the U.S. is proposing interconnected power cables to connect power generation infrastructure in regional markets.

The U.S. State Department source cited says that the EastMed pipeline project should be abandoned altogether.

Charles Ellinas, the CEO at EC Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company Ltd, who is also a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, has adopted that same line of thinking.

The Cypriot expert and Global Energy Council fellow spoke to the Ethnos newspaper about the pipeline, saying that it is a project that would have worked 10 years ago, but not now.

He said that the project will be scrapped by the end of the year and stressed that it is time to give priority to interconnected power cables.

EastMed Pipeline project map: Credit: Randam/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Ellinas argues that focusing on EastMed makes it harder for us to consider other sources of energy and turn to Renewable Energy. “When we concentrate on projects that are not feasible, it is counterproductive. It pushes us in directions that are not feasible.”

Ellinas stressed that the EastMed pipeline is not economically viable, and “is technically difficult,” adding that “Europe’s continued transition to clean energy and renewable energy sources has made it even more difficult.”

The EU goal is the use of natural gas in Europe to be reduced by 25 percent by 2030 and to be abandoned completely by 2050.

It is noted that even Israel announced that it will stop researching natural gas and will focus on greater use of renewable energy sources. Greece is doing the same, setting as a goal the production of electricity from RES by 61%.

Political tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

A lot has transpired since the conception of the EastMed pipeline idea. With Turkey’s increased activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, the project generated tensions.

The accord between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey came right after Turkey’s contentious agreement which delineates maritime borders with Libya and asserts claims to areas of the Mediterranean the pipeline might cross.

The three signatory countries oppose that disputed accord — which has not been recognized by any nation.

Turkey reacted immediately after the deal was signed.

“Any project disregarding Turkey, which has the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Turkish Cypriots, who have equal rights over the natural resources of the Island of Cyprus, cannot succeed,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry stated.

Turkish activity — most of it illegal — in the Eastern Mediterranean had escalated at the time, as Ankara claims maritime zones that belong to Greece and Cyprus.

Activities such as drilling for gas in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and sending research ships accompanied by warships inside Greece’s territorial waters also took place at that time.

The violations of the Greek continental shelf culminated in the summer of 2020, months after the agreement between the three nations was signed.

EastMed construction turned political

“As we approached 2020, the project became more political than energy. Now it is completely political and not only pushes us in the wrong direction on the issue of energy but it also does not contribute to peace in the region,” Ellinas said.

He added that reactions over the pipeline — not only from Turkey — but also the scenarios of changing the direction of the pipeline to transport Israeli gas directly to the European market, only cause more confusion.

Ellinas added that the construction of the EastMed will not stop Turkey’s aggression. Even the laying of cables in areas that Turkey considers to belong to its own maritime jurisdiction raises a new issue with the neighboring country, on the grounds that it is a coastal state.

But the fact that the State Department is now clearly saying that it supports interconnection power cables strengthens the argument for cables.

“In fact, to some extent, Ankara can also benefit from the power cables. Turkey is already connected by cables and electricity is traded between Turkey and Greece. So electrical cables could be a continuation of something that already exists,” Ellinas points out.


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