The highly controversial project for the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline has been delayed further as the Bulgarian Environment Ministry has returned the company’s environmental assessment report for the second time.
Bulgaria’s Environment Minister Nona Karadzhova announced Monday morning on BNT that the Ministry has once again refused to accept the report of the project company Trans-Balkan Pipeline (TPP) on the construction of the troubled Bulgarian-Greek-Russian oil pipeline, and has returned it to TPP giving it two more months to complete it and fix certain deficiencies.
This is the second such move on part of the Bulgarian Environment Ministry after it already gave Trans-Balkan Pipeline two months to fix its report at the very end of March.
While the initial environmental report of the project company provided for using an offloading monobuoy offloading technology at the pipeline’s starting point at the Bulgarian Port of Burgas, the re-submitted version of the document added a second option – unloading the oil directly at the port.
According to Bulgaria’s Environment Minister, however, Trans-Balkan Pipeline has not provided sufficient information about the second technology. The public discussion of the company’s environmental report in Bulgaria will start only after the document is completed.
Interestingly, the newly adopted approach about oil unloading in Burgas is the opposite of the one which was initially adopted, and was defended by TBP executives as being safest in environmental terms.
In a statement released on May 23, the TBP company announced that a revised Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report (ESIA) for the Burgas-Alexandroupolis crude oil pipeline project was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Water of the Republic of Bulgaria on May 19, 2011.
TBP says it has reconsidered the earlier concept of 2009 that favored SPMs (Single Point Mooring - offshore unloading facilities) and is instead giving preference to an improved Jetty solution for unloading in the Burgas bay area.
According to the company, which is a joint venture of the governments of Bulgaria, Greece, and Russia, the so called monobuoy offloading technology, or SPM option was originally favored because SPMs can be placed beyond the Natura 2000 areas in the outer bay area of Bulgaria's Gulf of Burgas.
"After a series of consultations with the Bulgarian environmental and other competent authorities the original Jetty design was elaborated in more detail and further improved. Also, comprehensive impact mitigation measures have been defined. As a result, TBP has concluded that the risks for Natura 2000 area are within an acceptable level since adequate control measures will be put in place," Trans-Balkan Pipeline explained in May 2011.
It points out that an important benefit of the Jetty solution is that the facilities are located close to the Port of Rosenets - an industrial area - which would allow for bundling with the existing oil transportation infrastructure.
In an interview for Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) in June 2010, Plamen Rusev, back then head of the Bulgarian section of the TBP company, defended the monobuoy unloading technology as being the safest one, and criticized the Bulgarian authorities and local NGOs for insisting on the port offloading of oil saying it harbored much graver dangers. The interview can be READ HERE.
At present, Bulgaria has technically frozen the project for the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
Ever since the center-right government of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov took office in the summer of 2009, it has been balking at the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, which had been promoted vigorously by the formed Socialist-led Stanishev Cabinet and the Socialist President of Bulgaria, Georgi Parvanov. It has also been met with staunch resistance along Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast over environmental concerns.
On April 7, 2011, Russian Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko renewed calls for Bulgaria to take measures in order to push ahead the project for the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
Back then, Bulgarian Economy Minister Traikov retorted that Bulgaria has always observed its international contracts, and that at the moment his country is examining the environment impact assessment of the BA pipeline.
The new Russian push for the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline came a week after Bulgaria's Environment Ministry gave the Trans-Balkan Pipeline company two more months to complete its report on the environmental impact of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
The original environmental impact report of the proposed Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline was tabled to the Bulgarian government in late February, and the Cabinet was supposed to make a decision on whether the pipeline will be built or not by March 31.
Earlier in March, the Russian-sponsored oil pipeline project ran into further trouble as Bulgaria failed once again to pay its dues to the joint venture for its construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
On February 17, 2011, a joint general meeting of the Shareholders and the Supervisory Board of Trans-Balkan Pipeline B.V. (ТВР), the Bulgarian-Greek-Russian company, held in Rome, Italy, gave the Bulgarian government March 20 as a deadline to settle all of its dues for the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.
Even though back then all of the Company's shareholders, including the Bulgarian state, supported the idea that the project should be continued, including the revision of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), according to the comments made by the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water, Bulgaria failed once again to pay the EUR 7.3 M it owes to the budget of the joint venture.
Mikhail Barkov, Chairman of TBP's Supervisory Board, as quoted by RIA Novosti, commented on Monday, March 21, that the TBP company will have to go into a hibernation mode as neither Greece, nor Russia will pay any more for the project as Bulgaria is constantly refusing to do so.
Trans-Balkan Pipeline B.V. was registered on February 6, 2008, in Amsterdam (the Netherlands) in implementation of the tripartite agreement between the Governments of Russia, Bulgaria, and Greece on the construction and operation of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, signed in Athens (Greece) on March 15, 2007.
According to the Russian reports, Bulgaria owes EUR 7.3 M as a contribution to the budget of the joint project company; in December 2010, there were concerns by Russia that Bulgaria wants to kill the project by defaulting on its dues. A senior Greek government official commented at the time that Bulgaria was moving to shed the oil pipeline under pressure by American oil interests.
In November 2010, the Bulgarian Environment Ministry said the environmental impact assessment of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline is inadequate and needs to be reworked; the ultimate decision about whether Bulgarian will take part in the project has been put off for 2011. Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov, however, has written off the project on a number of occasions, declaring that there is no way the ultimate environmental assessment would be positive.
Bulgaria, Greece and Russia agreed to build the pipeline between Burgas and Alexandroupolis, taking Caspian oil to the Mediterranean skirting the congested Bosphorus, in 2007 after more than a decade of intermittent talks.
The 280-km pipeline, with 166 km passing through Bulgaria, would have an initial annual capacity of 35 million tons of crude oil, which could be later expanded to 50 million tons. Its costs are estimated at up to USD 1.5 B, up from initial estimates at USD 900 M.
The Trans-Balkan Pipeline company, which is in charge of the construction and subsequent operation of the future pipeline, and is headquartered in the Netherlands, was set up in 2008.
The Russian participant in the project, Pipeline Consortium Burgas-Alexandroupolis Ltd, has a share of 51%. It was founded jointly by three companies: AK Transneft (33.34%), NK Rosneft (33.33%), and Gazrpom Neft (33.33%).
The Bulgarian Joint stock company "Project Company Oil Pipeline Burgas-Alexandroupolis – BG" AD has a share of 24.5%. It was initially founded as jointly by two state companies, Bulgargaz (50%) and Technoexportstroy (50%) but was transferred in full to the Finance Ministry in February 2010.
The Greek participants are Helpe Thraki AE with 23.5% and the Greek government with 1%. The Helpe-Thraki AE was founded jointly by "Hellenic Petroleum" (25%) and "Thraki" (75%).
Three Bulgarian Black Sea municipalities - Burgas, Pomorie, and Sozopol - have voted against the pipe in local referendums over environmental concerns.