The Druzhba oil pipeline, the world's second longest and one of the largest pipeline networks, has been the subject of much controversy with the revelation that oil flow through it contained ten times more organic chloride than normal.
Druzhba, which means friendship, carries oil some 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) from the eastern part of Russia to points in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia and Germany.
Belarus' state oil company Belneftekhim, one of the companies that receive oil via the Druzhba pipeline, on Wednesday, April 24 halted the transit because of the poor quality of its oil, which was discovered on April 19.
Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czechia followed suit and halted oil intake.
The contamination impacted approximately 5 million tonnes of oil worth up to US$2.6 billion.
In late April, representatives from Belarus and Russia met in Moscow to discuss the issue.
Transneft, the Russian oil company responsible for the oil transmission via Druzhba, confirmed the high chloride content of the oil and reported that they took the necessary measures to resolve the issue.
On May 2, clean oil reached Belarus, however, the Belarusian oil company said the measures undertaken only allowed for the resumption of operations of one branch of the pipeline while asserting that a "full recovery would take several months of hard work.”
After the incident, on April 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized Transneft for failing to have the appropriate mechanisms in place to prevent such contamination.
Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak noted that based on orders from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an interdepartmental commission was established to investigate the incident.
"As a result of the inspection, a source of oil contamination has been identified - this is the Lopatino metering unit in the Samara region," Novak confirmed.
Subsequently, Transneft intensified its testing to a daily basis from its fortnightly controls, he added.
On May 7, in Russia, four people were taken into custody over the contamination.
- Oil worth up to US$2.6 billion
Belneftekhim’s Deputy Chief Uladzimer Sizou estimated on April 26 that losses in the region of $100 million were incurred, because of which the Belarusian side would seek compensation from Russia.
As a result of the contamination, it is likely that European customers could now be motivated to make new investments to diversify supplies by expanding the range of alternative oil transport routes.
-Technical or political?
Russia’s sanitary authority banned the import of apples and pears from Belarus on April 10, nine days prior to the incident.
German business newspaper Handelsblatt argues that as an explanation for implementing the ban, Russians may have suspected that the fruit was coming from the European Union and that Belarus was helping Europeans beat the Russian food embargo, introduced in 2014 in response to the EU’s Ukraine-related sanctions.
Handelsblatt also contends that the Kremlin’s politicization of energy to implement its foreign policy goals, and in this case to discipline its errant partners, is a consideration that cannot be completely ruled out.
- Druzhba pipeline
The Druzhba pipeline network branches out into numerous pipelines to deliver its product throughout Eastern Europe and Germany.
Today, it is the largest principal artery for the transportation of Russian oil across Europe, which has a technical capacity of about 80 million tonnes of oil per year. In 2018, 67 million tonnes were transmitted representing 25% of all Russian oil exports.
On Dec. 18, 1958, during the 10th session of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) in Prague, the construction of the crude oil pipeline was signed by what was then the Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to transverse Poland, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and Hungary.
The "Friendship" pipeline aptly reflected the fact that the pipeline supplied oil to its "fraternal socialist allies" in the former Soviet bloc. The construction of the initially proposed 5,327 kilometer-long pipeline (3,310 miles) began in 1960.
Druzhba was the longest oil pipeline at that time at a length of 4,857 kilometers until it was surpassed by the Eastern Siberia–Pacific Ocean oil pipeline, which was finished in 2009.
The pipes for the project were manufactured in the Soviet Union and Poland, while fittings were manufactured in Czechoslovakia.
The pipeline currently has a capacity of 1.2 to 1.4 million barrels per day.
The construction cost nearly 400 million Russian rubles, equal to around $6 million.
By Talha Yavuz