Balkans-focused energy forum on eve of Thessaloniki fair

Two key regional gas pipeline projects involving Greece and backed by the US, the Greek-Bulgarian IGB gas grid interconnection and a pipeline to link Greece and North Macedonia, will be at the center of attention in talks between energy minister Costis Hatzidakis and peers at the Southeast Europe Energy Forum in Thessaloniki on September 6, a day ahead of the opening of this year’s Thessaloniki International Fair.

Hatzidakis and the US Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, will be key speakers at the forum, where speeches will also be delivered by the energy ministers of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Israel, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia.

Besides the prospective gas pipeline from Greece to North Macedonia, the talks between Hatzidakis and his North Macedonian peer will also focus on an upgrade of the electricity grid interconnection linking the systems of the two countries, as well as an upcoming relaunch of the Okta oil pipeline, stretching from an ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) facility in Thessaloniki to the company’s Okta refinery and storage facility in North Macedonia.

The gas pipeline is the most important project of the three as an interconnection of the Greek and North Macedonian gas systems does not exist.

The Greek-Bulgarian IGB gas interconnection, along with TAP, to carry Azeri natural gas through northern Greece, Albania and across the Adriatic Sea to central Europe via Italy, are Greece’s two most significant international energy projects.

They promise to further diversify Europe’s energy sources and weaken Russia’s dominance in the region.

Meanwhile, Russia is promoting its own energy and geopolitical interests in the region. Last month, Greece was excluded from Turkish Stream, a Russian-Turkish gas pipeline plan whose second segment is now planned to run through Bulgaria, not Greece.

The first segment of this gas pipeline project is planned to supply Russian natural gas to the Turkish market and the second to Europe’s south and southeast.

 

ELPE, seeing growth, to reopen northern pipeline late this year

An oil pipeline stretching 213 kilometers from an ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) facility in Thessaloniki to its Okta company refinery and storage facility in the Republic of North Macedonia is expected to be reopened towards the end of this year, roughly six years after the Greek petroleum group shut it down.

The matter has been included on the agenda for a meeting in Skopje today between officials from both sides of the border, led by their respective heads of state, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his North Macedonian peer Zoran Zaev. The two leaders have agreed to sign a series of bilateral agreements and memorandums of cooperation.

Swift progress is being sought in efforts to finalize a customs agreement, align the oil pipeline plan with EU standards and facilitate its licensing.

ELPE intends to utilize the relaunched oil pipeline to transport fuel, especially diesel, in annual quantities of around one million metric tons, far greater than the total consumption in North Macedonia. for exports to Bulgaria, Serbia and Kosovo, besides local sales.

ELPE plans to use its 350,000-metric ton storage facility, located 25 kilometers from the North Macedonian capital, as part of the export drive to regional markets.

The Greek petroleum group stopped operating this facility in 2013 after deciding it was no longer feasible to run.

A recent bilateral agreement between Greece and North Macedonia, until recently officially named Fyrom (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), has increased trading potential between the two countries and in the wider region.

ELPE controls 80 percent of its Okta venture in North Macedonia. The remaining stake is held locally. This equity balance will remain unchanged but Okta’s retail presence is expected to  increase.

Okta currently operates 27 petrol stations in North Macedonia. An exclusive partnership with Makpetrol, the neighboring country’s leading oil and oil products distributor running 121 petrol stations, promises to increase Okta’s share of retail fuel stemming from its refinery in North Macedonia to 65 percent.

 

ELPE oil pipeline from Thessaloniki to Fyrom seen reopening March

An oil pipeline stretching 213 kilometers from Greek petroleum group  ELPE’s Thessaloniki facilities in the country’s north to its Okta company refinery across the northern border in Fyrom (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) is expected to reopen around March after the firm ceased using this channel in 2013, ruling it, at the time, as inefficient and unprofitable.

The ensuing road transportation of fuels has sharply increased costs and smuggling activity.

ELPE and Fyrom’s administration are ready for the oil pipeline’s reopening, sources have informed. However, constitutional changes concerning a bilateral agreement for Fyrom’s name change to the Republic of North Macedonia, requiring several rounds of voting in parliament, still need to be completed before oil quantities can be transported through this pipeline.

The ELPE group is currently using its Okta company refinery as a storage facility. Balkan regional growth experienced in recent years has rekindled the Greek petroleum firm’s interest in the Okta unit as a transit center for distribution of petroleum products in Fyrom and other countries in the region.

ELPE maintains a market presence in Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Fyrom, operating over 200 petrol stations.

The Thessaloniki-Fyrom oil pipeline’s reopening is expected to significantly reduce fuel transportation costs to these markets.

 

ELPE firm OKTA, dominating Fyrom market, gets cost bonus and prize

Gasoline retailer OKTA, a member of the ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) group, has established itself as a dominant player in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom), where it stands as the neighboring country’s biggest gasoline supplier by far.

OKTA was ranked third, based on total turnover, in a list of Fyrom’s 200 biggest enterprises published by local economic news magazine Capital. OKTA’s total turnover reached 311 million euros, a 5.6 percent drop compared to the previous year.

The publication’s top-200 list includes seven more Greek or part-Greek enterprises.

Greece’s diplomatic mission in Fyrom is keeping a close watch on the country’s economic developments and other matters of interest to Greek enterprises interested in the neighbouring market. Athens is being updated on a regular basis.

Fyrom’s newly appointed government, embraced by the EU and USA, is keen to improve the country’s bilateral ties with Greece.

Part of this effort includes the implementation, as of January 1, of a delayed directive stretching back to 2009 concerning storage costs of required fuel reserves. Until now, these storage costs have been covered by petroleum firms without any compensation. Given its dominant market share, OKTA has shouldered a considerable part of this cost. Fyrom’s new administration has decided to implement the aforementioned directive, which will rid OKTA of the considerable storage costs it has been forced to cover.

OKTA was one of three Greek enterprises to receive a prize in an annual competition staged by Fyrom’s economy ministry in recognition of corporate social responsibility. The Greek petroleum firm received an award for its contribution to the country’s traffic education and road safety.