Serbia is working to diversify its gas-supply options and reduce its reliance on Russian imports, despite its close political and economic ties to Moscow and its refusal to join in sanctions against the country.
Serbia’s Mining & Energy Minister Zorana Mihajlovic told Upstream that the country is working to secure long-term supplies of natural gas from Azerbaijan as well as liquefied natural gas from import terminals in Greece and Croatia.
While work is ongoing on an interconnector between Serbia and Bulgaria, the country is looking at potential gas connections with regional neighbours Macedonia, Croatia and Romania.
“All these pipelines form an integral plan for diversification of our supply routes and will enable sufficient quantities of natural gas to be delivered to Serbia from various directions and along the existing Balkan Stream [pipeline], as an [onshore] continuation of the TurkStream [pipeline],” Mihajlovic said.
Despite some logistical disruptions, officials are aiming for the Serbia-Bulgaria interconnector to start carrying gas by September 2023.
“Work is under way on the preparation of the route and the construction of measuring and regulating stations. Developments in Ukraine and global market disturbances have led to a prolongation of the delivery of pipes [to the project] due to delays in the delivery of production materials,” Mihajlovic said.
The pipeline will have an annual capacity of 1.8 billion cubic metres, all of which will be available to Serbia for gas imports from foreign-led offshore gas developments in Azerbaijan that will travel to Greece via the Southern Gas Corridor trunkline network and on to Bulgaria along the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline.
“The quantities of gas will depend on the negotiable delivery terms. At the moment, it is early to talk about the agreed price, but expectations are that the ultimate outcome of the negotiations will be maximally favorable for Serbia,” Mihajlovic said.
A spokesperson for IGB told Upstream that the pipeline was pressured with about 3.7 Bcm early in July as part of its commissioning process.
Commercial launch depends on two main elements — the overall readiness of the pipeline and the completion of a number of administrative procedures in Bulgaria and Greece, the spokesperson said.
A contractor is currently working on the implementation and testing of a communication and management system that will operate automatically along the entire length of the interconnector.
At the same time, the project company is counting on “active and continuous institutional support in Greece and Bulgaria in order to complete necessary administrative procedures”.
These procedures can take up to three months but IGB is hopeful that, given the importance of the project, there will be “political will to speed up these processes” so the pipeline can be operational before the cold-weather season, the spokesperson said.
The operator expects to start first shipments of gas no later than 1 October 2023.
"The pipeline already has about half of its annual 3 Bcm capacity booked, so initial volumes will be transported from Greece to Bulgaria to cover the needs of the national gas market in Bulgaria”, the spokesperson added.
Mihajlovic said a planned interconnector with North Macedonia would present another option to increase Azeri gas imports.
The link could give Serbia access to gas from the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, an extension of the Southern Gas Corridor.
A potential pipeline from Croatia could bring gas from that county's LNG import terminal on the Mediterranean island of Krk.
Additionally, a link with Romania would enable access to a legacy gas pipeline that runs from Ukraine to Romania and Greece, and can operate in both directions.
Serbia currently imports all of its gas from Russia — some 2 Bcm per year shipped through the Black Sea subsea pipeline TurkStream to Turkey and on to Bulgaria via an onshore connection.
This connection, known as Balkan Stream, stretches across Bulgaria to the Serbian border.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced in late May a new three-year gas supply contract with Gazprom that calls for the annual delivery of 2.2 Bcm of Russian gas to Serbia.
The deal was to be inked in June in the capital of Belgrade, but the Russian delegation scheduled to attend the ceremony was forced to cancel their visit when Serbia’s neighbours closed their airspace to the delegation's aircraft.