13, juin,2024
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War in Ukraine: Italy relies on African gas to break its dependence on Russia

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While Russia currently supplies the peninsula with 45% of its gas, Prime Minister Mario Draghi wants to change this situation by diversifying its portfolio of suppliers as soon as possible.

« We no longer want to depend on Russian gas, because economic dependence must not become political subjection, » he said on Sunday in an interview with the daily Il Corriere della Sera.

« Diversification is possible and can be implemented relatively quickly, faster than we thought only a month ago, » he said.

69 years of presence in Africa for Eni

To this end, Mario Draghi was due to visit Luanda on Wednesday and Brazzaville on Thursday to conclude new supply contracts, but, due to a positive outcome at Covid, he was replaced at short notice by his foreign minister Luigi Di Maio, accompanied by his colleague for ecological transition Roberto Cingolani.

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Rome is exploiting « the excellent relationships » that Italian energy giant Eni has built up over 69 years of presence in Africa, where it is the leader in both production and reserves, Davide Tabarelli, head of the Nomisma Energia think tank, told AFP. Eni boss Claudio Descalzi will also accompany the two ministers on their trip.

In recent weeks, Rome has already concluded agreements with Algeria and Egypt. Algiers, currently its second largest supplier, already contributes around 30% of its consumption.

According to Eni, the agreement signed with the Algerian national company, Sonatrach, will increase gas deliveries through the Transmed submarine pipeline « to 9 billion m3 per year » by 2023-2024.

« A « half-hearted attempt

The agreement with Egypt could also allow up to three billion cubic metres of liquefied natural gas to be transported to Europe and Italy this year, according to ENI.

This diversification of supply sources will not be cheap, because in order to be able to import more liquefied natural gas, Italy plans to buy or rent floating storage and regasification units.

This spending will put a strain on the finances of the eurozone’s third-largest economy, which is already heavily indebted, experts warn, predicting new taxes on businesses and individuals.

In any case, the idea of replacing Russian gas « in the short term » is « a half-hearted attempt », « it will take at least two or three years », says Davide Tabarelli.

For Francesco Galietti, who runs the Policy Sonar consultancy, « it’s a race against time to secure gas and oil reserves for the next winter season ».

In his view, Rome should do whatever it takes, including increasing fossil fuel production on its own territory, while the Ministry of Ecological Transition is instead terminating contracts.

« The fact that (the ministry) snubs this (domestic) oil and gas delays the exit from dependence on Russian gas, » he warns.

« Operation Thermostat »

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest consumers of gas, which accounts for 42% of its energy consumption, and it imports 95% of its gas.

The government also hopes to reduce this dependence by speeding up investment in renewables, notably by easing bureaucratic hurdles to the installation of wind turbines and solar panels.

Mario Draghi this month called on his compatriots to make some sacrifices: « Do we want peace or do we want to turn on the air conditioning this summer?

His government is already working on « Operation Thermostat », which aims to turn down the heat by one degree in schools and administrations, and to adopt an equivalent measure for this summer with air conditioning.

The rule would also apply to private homes and businesses, although it seems difficult to monitor enforcement.

The measure could save some 4 billion cubic metres of gas per year, or about 14% of the gas imported from Russia, according to the daily La Stampa.