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Europe cools on West to North Africa gas pipeline as delays mount

Abuja and Rabat could miss an historic chance to boost gas exports to the north unless they expedite project work

Near the top of the priority list for Nigeria's new oil minister, due to start work on 29 May, will be whether to move ahead on a trans-Sahara pipeline to export vast quantities of gas to Europe via Algeria or Morocco. The rewards for Nigeria's gas industry, which has been starved of investment for a decade, would be massive – but such a pipeline would face formidable technical and political obstacles.

In December, Morocco's National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) signed memoranda of understanding with a group of countries including Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ghana which would be connected to the planned 7,000 kilometre Nigeria-Morocco pipeline along the Atlantic coast.

Nigeria's oil minister Timipre Sylva has confirmed that a start date has not been set for the construction of the pipeline. Some analysts predict delays of two to three years. 

The European Union, which has been trying to tie up gas supply deals across Africa since Moscow started its war with Ukraine a year ago, is worried about the timing on the project. 'You have to consider when it will be finished. Will we still want to use gas, methane?' EU High Representative on Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, asked on a visit to Rabat in January.

European Commission officials are reluctant to take on more medium-term gas supply contracts due to their plans for a green transition.

While work on the Morocco-Nigeria pipeline has hit snags, Rabat's neighbour and regional rival Algeria – already Africa's leading exporter of natural gas – wants to relaunch its €18 billion Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP) to link Nigeria to Algeria via Niger (Dispatches, 11/4/22, Europe looks to African energy as sanctions on Russia deepen). Last July, Algiers, Abuja, and Niamey signed a memorandum of understanding to build the 4,128 km long gas pipeline.

Yet the Algeria project also lacks a start date and the vulnerability of both projects to jihadist attacks in the Sahel region suggests that neither is likely to advance quickly.

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