Algeria is unable to cover natural gas supplies to Europe

If the conflict between Russia and Ukraine breaks out, the Maghreb country is not confident of its ability to compensate for the shortage of Russian gas supplies to the European continent
File photo, Algerian soldiers stand guard at the Tiguentourine gas complex in In Amenas, some 1,600 kilometres southeast of the capital.

AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI  -   File photo, Algerian soldiers stand guard at the Tiguentourine gas complex in In Amenas, some 1,600 kilometres southeast of the capital

The possible confrontation between Moscow and Kiev has put Europe in check in gas matters, since Russia is currently one of the main suppliers of natural gas to the countries of the European Union. In response to this, Algeria has offered its gas reserves as an alternative to compensate for the possible lack of this resource.

The Maghreb country is considered a reliable supplier, exporting gas to some European countries, such as Spain and Italy, through three pipelines that cross the Mediterranean. In 2021, one of them was closed due to the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Algeria and Morocco.

Algeria is known for producing gas that is cheaper than Russian gas and easier to move, but lacks the infrastructure to transport it on a large scale. A former CEO of Sonatrach, Africa's largest hydrocarbon company, highlighted Algeria's inability to replace Russian gas due to the production gap between the two countries.

He also explained that Algeria exports, at best, "between 20 and 30 million cubic metres to Italy, around 12 billion to Portugal and Spain, and smaller quantities to France, Turkey and Greece", among others. The amount of gas shipped by Algeria exceeds 42 billion cubic metres per year, while only a Russian pipeline is capable of pumping that amount. 

Yacimiento de gas en Argelia
REUTERS/LAMINE CHIKHI - Gas field in Algeria

Russia and Algeria signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2001 for cooperation in various sectors such as military and energy, and Sonatrach also has close relations with some Russian companies. The possibility of breaking off these diplomatic relations is one of the main reasons why the Maghreb country is not acting as a gas substitute for Europe.

Hussein Boukara, a former professor of political science and international relations at the University of Algiers, argues that "his country's approach has always been economic and pragmatic, and political calculations have always been put aside". He also claims that Algeria cannot cope with European market prices and that its production is not sufficient to cover Russian supplies.

New energy security concerns have arisen in Europe over the possible invasion of Ukraine and the fact that the Kremlin could paralyse the flow of this resource to the rest of the continent. Forty-one per cent of natural gas consumed comes from Russian fields; this dependence varies and is highest in central and northern Europe.

El logo de la compañía estatal de energía Sonatrach está en la sede de Argel, Argelia
REUTERS/RAMZI BOUDINA - The logo of the state energy company Sonatrach is on the headquarters in Algiers, Algeria.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, acknowledges that they are building "a partnership for energy security with Biden, which is primarily about more liquefied gas supplies". The EU and the US have agreed to look for other producers to guarantee fuel supplies. 

EU High Commissioner Josep Borrell travelled to the United States to meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the EU's energy dependence. "Our long-term priority is to diversify energy sources, especially gas flows, so that we are not so dependent on Russia in terms of energy and geopolitics," he said. 

Political tension and higher demand due to winter temperatures have caused prices to rise sharply since December. Putin has used gas as a lobbying tool on numerous occasions, such as in 2014 over an issue also related to Ukraine. 

Úrsula von der Leyen, presidenta de la Comisión de la UE
PHOTO/MICHAEL KAPPELER - Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission

The EU has threatened to block the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, capable of transporting 55 billion cubic metres of fuel per year. This plan was initiated by German and French companies in cooperation with Russia. In addition, it seeks to secure energy supplies to other countries, especially Germany, after eliminating more than 10 nuclear power plants.