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What is Italy doing to reduce its dependence on Russian gas

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In recent weeks, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi have traveled to different countries to try to make new agreements on the import of natural gas, with the aim of reducing Italy’s energy dependence on Russia: it is a subject that is under discussion a lot, and which became a priority after the Russian invasion of Ukraine not only for Italy, but also for many other European governments, such as the German one. For this reason, at the beginning of the month, Di Maio and Descalzi visited Algeria, then Qatar, the Republic of Congo and Angola.

Italy uses gas a lot for energy production (for 42 percent in 2020), importing almost everything (95 percent in 2021), largely from Russia (40 per cent of gas imports in 2021).

To reduce this strong dependence without running out of electricity for businesses and homes, the Italian government first of all planned to encourage the exploitation of renewable energy sources and to increase national gas production. It is a strategy that also includes the purchase from other countries of at least half of the 29 billion cubic meters of gas that Russia purchased last year. The idea of ​​the government, writes Republicis to achieve this goal by 2023, also because in the short term it is impossible to think of doing without gas.

In recent years, the other countries from which Italy has purchased the most gas have been Algeria (31 per cent of imports in 2021), Qatar (9 per cent), Azerbaijan (10 per cent) and Libya. (4 percent). It was with the first two that Di Maio and Descalzi made contacts to obtain greater gas supplies – Eni is the largest Italian oil company and the company that imports and sells much of the gas used in the country.

As for Algeria, which in February 2022 was already the first gas exporter to Italy, an agreement has already been found: Eni will make an investment to increase local gas production, which has been stagnant for some years, and thus be able to increase the share destined for exports.

From an infrastructural point of view, instead, the gas pipeline that is already used, the TransMed or “Enrico Mattei”, which starts from the Algerian desert, crosses Tunisia, and then the Mediterranean Sea up to Mazara del Vallo, in Sicily, and goes up the Italy arriving in Minerbio, in the province of Bologna. It can carry around 30 billion cubic meters in one year: in 2021 it carried 21 billion, so there is room to increase the supply. The agreement should provide for 10 billion cubic meters of gas more in a short time.

Even in Qatar Eni would like to invest in order to reach an increase in imports (and so in Egypt): there would be an initial agreement, as announced by Di Maio, but no details are known for the moment. In the case of Qatar, supplies are liquefied natural gas (LNG), i.e. gas that is condensed so that it takes up less space and can therefore be transported by ship. Of this type of gas, Qatar is already the leading exporter for Italy.

LNG arrives in Italy via one of the three regasifiers active in the area, plants which, as the name suggests, restore the substance to its gaseous state and then introduce it into national gas pipelines.

They are located in Porto Viro, in the province of Rovigo, in the sea off the coast of Livorno and in Panigaglia, in the province of La Spezia. They are currently 60 percent used, so they could handle larger quantities of LNG. The installation of a fourth floating regasifier is also planned, the Minister of Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani recently announced: the government has instructed Eni and Snam, the company that manages the Italian gas pipeline network, to find a regasification vessel.

The Italian gas pipeline network (Snam)

Also from Angola and the Republic of Congo they would like to buy liquefied gas and Eni’s plan would be to build two liquefaction plants, to get to imports after 2023. For now, however, nothing is certain, and back from the mission in the two countries Di Maio said: “There is still negotiation to be done”.

Theoretically, imports could also increase through two of the international gas pipelines that pass through Italy, the GreenStream from Libya, whose gas exports decreased due to the civil war, and the Trans-Adriatic pipeline (also known by the acronym in English TAP), which from the border between Turkey and Greece arrives in Albania and then in Melendugno, in the province of Lecce, across the Adriatic. TAP transports the gas produced by Azerbaijan: in 2021 Italy imported more than 7 billion cubic meters, which this year could become 9 – just under the current operational capacity.

To reach the target of 20 billion cubic meters per year, it will be necessary to wait at least three years for the expansion of the infrastructure.

In general, according to Cingolani’s forecasts, Italy could significantly reduce its dependence on Russian gas in 24 or 30 months. The government plan foresees also the increase in gas storage that is done in the summer – when it is used less since the heating systems are not turned on – in view of the winter. This piece of the energy strategy is also shared by the European Commission, which would like to introduce a rule that obliges member countries to fill storage sites (in Italy there are 13) to at least 90 per cent of capacity by 1 October of each year. .