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Algeria revives Sahara-Europe gas pipeline project to attack Morocco

The Moroccan kingdom's progress in its negotiations with Nigeria for the development of an off-shore gas pipeline has alerted the Algerian government
Los ministros africanos celebran el acuerdo.| PHOTO/ Cámara Africana de Energía

Los ministros africanos celebran el acuerdo.| PHOTO/ Cámara Africana de Energía  -   Los ministros africanos celebran el acuerdo.| PHOTO/ Cámara Africana de Energía

Two gas pipeline projects are clashing on the African scene. Nigeria is debating between the Algerian and Moroccan options to shape Africa's energy future. In this battle, the Algerian government has rescued its trans-Saharan proposal to hinder Moroccan intentions to make its off-shore gas pipeline project prosper.

 On 15 February, Algerian Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab signed the Niamey Accords with his Nigerian and Nigerian counterparts, Timipre Sylva and Mahamane Sani Mahamadou. The tripartite agreement between Niger, Nigeria and Algeria thus revived the 1980s project to bring non-liquefied gas from Nigeria to Algeria and then to Europe through the pipelines of the Algerian gas company, Sonatrach.  The agreement constitutes a common roadmap to implement the project by 2027. A project that has often been buried and often revived.  

With a total length of 4,128 km, the trans-Saharan pipeline would run from the industrial complex in the city of Warri in Nigeria to the wilaya of Laghouat in northern Algeria. The pipeline is designed to have an annual capacity of 30 billion cubic metres of gas, roughly the annual consumption of Spain. The main problem facing the project is its financing. African experts question the Algerian project, as reported in the daily Jeune Afrique. The cost of the project and the sources of financing are still unknown, and the intentions of the governments that signed the Niamey Agreement could be more for show than serious proposals.  In addition to the problem of money, there is the problem of security. Both Niger and Algeria's southern desert are regions with highly porous borders and very little state control. 

Un trabajador hace labores en un gasoducto PHOTO/ Cámara Africana de Energía
African ministers celebrate the agreement PHOTO/African Chamber of Energy

In Niger, the presence of the French and European military contingent Barkhane has been fighting terrorism and banditry since 2014. The pipeline would cross a region known as "Les trois frontières", at the confluence of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. A very dangerous area where armed groups such as Boko Haram are rampant. 

Statements by diplomatic sources reported by journalist Mohamed Mamouni Al Al Allawi for the daily Al-Arab have also pointed out that Algeria's external action in Nigeria and Niger seeks more than anything else to hinder the development of the Moroccan proposal through its lobbies in Nigeria. The signing of the Niamey Agreement was mainly instigated by Algiers in response to Morocco's attempts to launch the construction of the off-shore gas pipeline.

In response to the trans-Saharan project, Morocco is proposing an extension of the West African Gas Pipeline, a pipeline that runs along the West African coast from Nigeria to Morocco and then on to Europe via Spain. 

The West African Gas Pipeline, in operation since 2006, is an ECOWAS-driven infrastructure now majority-owned by the US group Chevron, as well as the Nigerian national energy company and Shell. It carries gas from Lagos to Ghana over 600 kilometres along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.  In 2016, faced with the paralysis of the trans-Saharan project, Moroccan diplomacy moved its chips in Nigeria to propose the extension of the infrastructure, following the coastline northwards to bring an estimated 40 billion cubic metres of non-liquefied gas per year to Europe. 

Los ministros encargados de los recursos petrolíferos de Nigeria, Níger y Argelia han rubricado una declaración tripartita, conocida como "Declaración de Niamey", para el relanzamiento del ambicioso y antiguo proyecto de "Gasoducto Transahariano" (TSGP) PHOTO/ Cámara Africana de Energía
Ministers in charge of petroleum resources from Nigeria, Niger and Algeria have initialled a tripartite declaration, known as the "Niamey Declaration", for the re-launch of the ambitious and long-standing "Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline" (TSGP) project PHOTO/ African Energy Chamber

Among the particularities of the project is the involvement of a large number of African countries, through which the pipeline would pass. Up to 11 countries would be affected by the construction of the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline, one of Morocco's main assets in promoting this infrastructure. They would turn the West African Gas Pipeline into a 5,660-kilometre-long pipeline, which would make it the longest gas pipeline in the world. 

A study was launched in 2016 to test the feasibility of the Moroccan project, and in December 2021 the issue of financing was put on the table in earnest. The Islamic Development Bank came into play. The Saudi-based financial organisation offered to finance up to $29.75 million for the project in a telematic meeting between the Moroccan minister of economy and finance, Nadia Fettah, and her Nigerian counterpart.

Europe also has a lot at stake in the development of these projects, especially after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, which has jeopardised the possibilities of obtaining Russian gas via NordStream 2. The Moroccan option seems more acceptable, especially for Spain, after the reversal of Pedro Sánchez's government on the Western Sahara issue, which infuriated Algeria. 

A few days after Spain's change of position in favour of a Moroccan resolution of the Sahara issue, Algerian national company Sonatrach announced that it would revise its gas prices for Spain, while keeping them unchanged for the rest of the countries it supplies. The gas supply in the hands of an unstable government close to Russia makes the Saharan pipeline project unattractive in the Brussels offices, if Gazprom's NordStream 2 mistake is repeated.