Bulgaria was preparing contingency plans in case of a new interruption in gas supplies from Russia, which was seen as a high-probability scenario, Bulgarian caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said on September 17.
Speaking to reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting, Zaharieva said that the country’s heating utilities have been cautioned to be ready to switch to other fuel types in case of such interruptions.
Bulgaria’s annual gas consumption is about three billion cubic metres. The country imports more than 80 per cent of its gas from Russia.
Despite plans to build interconnector pipelines with neighbouring countries – partially funded by the European Union in the wake of the January 2009 suspension of supplies, caused by a price dispute between Moscow and Kyiv – Bulgaria has only completed the pipeline to Greece, but not those linking it up to Turkey and Romania.
Bulgaria has also a gas storage facility at Chiren near its Black Sea coast, with a capacity of 550 million cubic metres (due to be doubled by 2017, according to plans announced earlier by state-owned company Bulgargaz), which is enough to cover the bulk of domestic consumption for a period between two and four months, depending on the weather.
Zaharieva said that gas was being stored at the Chiren facility as scheduled and that the cabinet was in talks with Greek authorities to buy gas if the need arises.
She said that there was no reduction in gas deliveries to Bulgaria. Several eastern European countries reported a decrease in Russian deliveries last week, mainly countries that have signed reverse flow agreements with Ukraine – Poland, Slovakia and Hungary – with analysts interpreting this as a move by Gazprom to curtail reverse gas deliveries with Ukraine, which Russia considers illegal.
Russia halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June, claiming that Kyiv owed more than $5 billion for past deliveries. Ukraine says that the price it pays is too high and has lodged a lawsuit in a Stockholm arbitration court.
Transit gas flows through Ukraine have continued unabated, however, although Moscow has repeatedly claimed Ukraine would dip into supplies meant for European customers for its own domestic needs.
Kyiv has denied the accusation, saying it is merely Russian propaganda meant to scare the EU into approving construction of the South Stream gas pipeline (due to make landfall in Bulgaria), which aims to bypass Ukraine altogether and ultimately replace the Ukrainian transit route altogether.
Previous gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine have resulted in Russia cutting off all gas supplies through Ukraine in January 2006 and January 2009. The latter interruption was felt especially strongly in Bulgaria, as it coincided with a bitter cold spell.
(Photo: Jayesh Nair)