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a boon for Algerian gas?

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The Russo-Ukrainian war posed the threat of a breakdown in Russian gas, the main supplier of the Old Continent, over Europe. Faced with European sanctions against Russia, the hypothesis of seeing Moscow react by drastically reducing its gas supplies to Europe seems to be taken very seriously. To deal with this eventuality, Western countries are already studying other options capable of ensuring their energy security. In addition to the United States on the watch with its shale gas, all eyes are also on Algeria, the gas country par excellence. Due to its proximity to Europe, this country on the southern shore of the Mediterranean could prove to be a supplier of choice.

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In this perspective, Italy has already taken the lead, by sending, on Monday, February 28, its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, to Algiers, to initiate discussions with the Algerian authorities on “ an increase in gas supplies in order to compensate for a possible break or drop in supplies on the Russian side. A visit that comes the day after very reassuring statements by Toufik Hakkar, CEO of the Algerian public hydrocarbon giant: “Sonatrach is a reliable gas supplier for the European market and is ready to support its long-term partners in difficult situations”.

So does Algeria really plan to “benefit” from the war in Ukraine to increase its market share in Europe? Does it have the capacity to supply sufficient quantities capable of replacing the lack of Russian gas? For Nassima Ouhab, a political economy researcher in Doha, Qatar, the Russian-Ukrainian war could be an opportunity for the country. “In economic and financial terms, replacing the Russian supplier is a real boon for Algeria, which currently produces 34.5 billion m3 of gas. she reminds. The country is one of those closest to Europe with already operational gas pipelines, such as Transmed and Medgaz, through which gas passes to Italy and Spain, thus meeting 11% of Europe’s needs.. Algeria could therefore very quickly increase its volume of gas exports by “10 billion m3, in addition to the 54 billion m3 currently exported to Europe”.

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For Nassima Ouhab, liquefied natural gas (LNG), which could be transported by LNG carriers, “would be the most adequate solution if necessary, because the Algerian production capacities are not fully exploited to date”. Better, in the medium term, if the conflict between Moscow and Kiev were to settle in the long term, Algeria, still assures the expert, has another asset, and not the least.

To guarantee a gas supply to Europe, Algeria could always count, in the long term, on its unconventional gas and in large quantities, knowing that Algeria is one of the five largest shale gas reserves in the world. », says the Algerian researcher. But for the moment, investments in this area are extremely long and costly, in particular because of the hydraulic fracturing process by which low-porous rocks are fractured by injecting a fluid at high pressure.

Opportunity yes, but…

While Algeria has significant leeway to increase its gas export volumes to Europe, this option is not without risk. Russia, reputed to be a historical and strategic partner of Algeria, could take a very dim view of the possible aims and ambitions of Algiers on the European market.

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For Mourad Preure, specialist in energy issues and former Sonatrach executive, “it is not in Algeria’s interest to pretend to replace Russia”. First, he explains, on the global gas market, “Algeria and Russia – although the two countries are competitors – maintain relations of trust. Algiers, like Moscow, are actively working, for example, to develop the world gas market, as evidenced by the participation, on February 22, of the two countries in the forum of gas-exporting countries, which Algeria would like to see evolve towards an OPEC [Organisation des pays exportateurs] some gas “. From this angle, “Algeria, on the tactical level, would be making a mistake to claim to replace Russian gas in Europe. This risks, in the end, breaking a kind of “gentlemen’s agreement”between the two producing countries “, he analyzes.

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Basically, the expert still maintains, Algeria does not really have the capacity, ” at least in the medium term to cover the lack of Russian gas in Europe. Internal Algerian gas demand is itself constantly increasing. Furthermore, says Mourad Preure, “The Russian gas supply in Europe is enormous. It represents more than a third of European demand. And in this regard, neither Qatar, which is a giant in gas production, nor the United States, let alone Algeria, could ensure the coverage of all European needs. believes the former Sonatrach executive.

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