Turkey cut off from Iranian gas once more

By bne IntelliNews October 22, 2012

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Iranian gas flows to Turkey have been halted for the second time this month after a blast, which was reportedly targeting a passing military convoy, damaged the main pipeline linking the two countries late on October 18. The cut-off has seen Turkish pipeline operator Botas request increased gas deliveries from Russia and Azerbaijan.

The blast took place in the Eleskirt town of the province at 23:25 local time, a spokesman for the Agri governorship said on October 19, reports the Wall Street Journal. "The cause of the explosion was sabotage and the gas flow will probably resume in a week."

"The explosion occurred on a natural gas pipeline in Eleskirt as a military vehicle was passing, wounding 28 soldiers," Agri Governor Mehmet Tekinarslan was reported as saying by state-run Anatolian News Agency. Authorities said most troops suffered from slight burns and there were also a few with severe injuries, without proving further details. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the line would be back in operation soon, according to Reuters, but gave no timetable.

The exact cause of the explosion has not been revealed. However, an accelerating series of attacks on oil and gas infrastructure feeding Turkey has been seen this year, raising questions over the country's push for an increasingly strategic role in international transit routes. Set in a rough neighbourhood, Turkey is battling both the PKK and threats from across the borders with Iraq and Syria.

The PKK has regularly attacked on oil and gas pipelines. Iranian gas flows were cut in early October by an explosion - claimed by the PKK - near the town of Dogubeyazit, also in the Agri province in eastern Turkey, and took a week to get back online. Deliveries have also been halted several times on the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which carries Iraqi crude to Turkey, while Azeri gas flows were halted for a week or so earlier this month by another blast in the east of the country.

The accelerating series of events is likely to raise questions not only in regional capitals but also Brussels. Turkey's planned $7bn Tanap pipeline is set to play a vital role in EU energy security by carrying 16bn cubic metres per year from the second phase of the giant Shah Deniz field in Azerbaijan towards Central Europe.

The driving point of that effort is to reduce Europe's reliance on Russian gas or deliveries routed through the country. However, gas giant Gazprom has been the main supplier keeping Turkish supplies going throughout the recent period of raised attacks.

According to Russian media, the state-controlled company increased Turkish deliveries via the underwater Blue Stream pipeline by around 50%, expanding to 48m cm per day from 32m cm/d, after Botas requested additional supply to make up for the cut in Iranian flows. The same report states that Turkish officials expect the pipeline to be repaired in a week.

Just 10 days after reopening its gas route to Turkey, Azerbaijan has also raised supplies from Shah Deniz, pumping around 50% more gas on the request of Botas.

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