A LARGE-SCALE EVENT

IN THE END OF 2008 IN BELARUS THERE TOOK PLACE AN EVENT WHICH COULD BE CALLED
A historical one without exaggeration. Natural gas was supplied to the last out of 118 districts, Berezinsky. Gasification of the country, planned during the Soviet times fifty years ago, was finished.

From Minsk to Vladivostok and back

It is remarkable that the major part of gas lines has been recently laid in Belarus. According to the First Deputy Minister of Energy Eduard Tovpenets, out of 36 thousand kilometers of gas pipe lines, built on the territory of the country, this value is close to a double way from Minsk to Vladivostok — 21 thousand kilometers appeared during the recent 14 years.

Belarus today is a country with a highly developed gas infrastructure. Owing to the hard work of Belarusian constructors and gasmen (I am writing this without pathos: while installing gas pipe lines, it is necessary to overcome such difficult obstacles as forests, rivers, and swamps) enterprises and population in each district of Belarus have a chance to choose whether to use fuel oil, wood, or natural gas for heating and electric-power production.

Availability of the alternative is especially important for Polesye districts which suffered greatly from Chernobyl NPP accident. Here it is impossible to heat with wood. As for fuel oil, it is far less ecological than natural gas. Gasification of Polesye, finished at the time of independence, is an event which can be compared by its significance with installation of the main gas pipe line Yamal-Europe on the territory of the country…

Gas consumption is one of the highest

Eduard Tovpenets, who took part in gasification of Minsk in 1960, recollects, “At that time the republic had a task to consume 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year. Now we consume this volume in winter per one month!”

In 2008 Belarus consumed 21.6 billion cubic meters of Russian gas. This is a very high indicator for a small country with population less than 10 million people. The volume of the consumed fuel can be compared to the supply of “Gazprom” to Italy and Turkey. Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria together consume the same amount of Russian gas as Belarus does alone.

According to power engineers, a natural gas share in the trading and energetic balance of Belarus amounts almost to 90 per cent. It is curious that, in opinion of representatives of OJSC “Beltransgaz,” gas usage will increase in the future. This is connected with modernization plans of Belarusian oil-processing plants in Mozyr and Novopolotsk. Belarusian oil-processing plants plan to shift to the technology of deeper oil conversion to manufacture and export products with a higher added value to the European Union. First of all, a high-grade petrol. Correspondingly, fuel oil production output, used as reserve fuel by many big heat power stations, is to decrease. This is why demand in gas will become higher.

How shall we estimate these figures and forecasts? On the one hand, orientation to clean fuel is an absolute plus. On the other hand, high indicators of gas consumption reflect higher energy consumption of Belarusian industrial enterprises (according to the National Academy of Sciences, fuel expenses per unit of end-use products is by 2–3 times higher in Belarus than in the developed EU countries). A dominant role of gas in economy makes Belarus sensitive to increase of its cost.

However, now this fuel type is much cheaper for the country than for other European consumers. If, for example, a neighboring Poland bought Russian gas at 320 US Dollars per one thousand cubic meters in 2008, than the gas price for Belarus was 128 US Dollars. Besides, the difference between fuel price on the border and the price at which it is sold to enterprises (extra charges of gas transmission operators and taxes form this difference) is less than 100 per cent in Belarus. In many European states end-consumers pay for gas several times more in comparison with the “incoming” price. For example, Austria in 2007 bought Russian gas at the price of 240 US Dollars per one thousand cubic meters. End-consumers paid 1000 US Dollars. At that moment fuel price for the enterprises in Denmark exceeded 1000 Euro.

Hydrocarbon resources can’t be cheap for long

In 2006 OJSC “Gazprom” and OJSC “Beltransgaz” signed a long-term contract, stipulating that the gas supply price to Belarus by 2011 will correspond with European prices after deduction of transit expenses. At that moment an average European price amounted to 300 US Dollars and it was supposed that it will essentially grow each year. However, recent events in world economy corrected those forecasts. After a global fall in oil and metal prices, the contract gas prices are also being changed.

At the same time the major part of experts are sure that low hydrocarbon prices will be changed in two or three years. After a new curl of business activity replaces the world economy recession, prices for primary goods will grow again. This was announced by the President Alexander Lukashenko in his speech on the ceremony of gas supply in Berezinsky district. In his opinion, heads of Belarusian enterprises and population shall not flatter themselves with today’s comparatively low prices. It is necessary to make everything to use this “time-out” in order manufactures and the communal sector could shift to modern energy-efficient equipment.

Even if gas prices increase significantly, Belarus will consume it more. The First Vice Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko, supervising an economic branch, quotes data of experts: gas will remain the most economically profitable fuel by 2025. According to the First Vice Prime Minister, it is not gas price but the efficiency of its usage that matters.

However, these things are interdependent. Perhaps, a confirmation that twofold growth price increase for Russian gas in the beginning of 2007 motivated Belarusian industry to save energy, will be correct.

Besides, the Government and the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the construction of a nuclear power plant in the country is of high priority. It will allow decreasing dependency on the imported gas by 20–25 per cent. In the end of 2008 it was decided to build the nuclear power plant on Ostrovetskaya site in Grodno region. In January of this year it was planned to create the infrastructure for the plant construction. The first block of the nuclear power plant with capacity 1000 megawatts is planned to be commissioned in 2018…

Vitaly Volianiuk
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