Italy banking on Africa for gas supplies

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Maputo (AIM-New Ziana) –Italy is pursuing a raft of natural gas deals in Africa as it seeks to cut dependence on Russia, a move likely to ruffle some feathers as European partners vie to do the same following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February this year.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi Draghi had planned to travel to Angola and the Republic of Congo this week to pursue further supplies after recently striking agreements with Algeria and Egypt.

He cancelled the trip to central and southern Africa on Monday after testing positive for Covid-19.

Draghi, 74, who is “asymptomatic,” will be replaced by Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and Minister in charge of Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani.

His trip had been expected to unsettle his European allies, some of who are pushing to centralize gas-purchase negotiations at the EU level.

Germany, which relies on Russia for 40 percent of its gas imports, is creating its own LNG infrastructure while others, from France to Croatia, plan to build or expand import terminals with the United States also agreeing to boost shipments to the bloc.

Potential deals in the Republic of Congo and Angola could bring Italy an additional 5 billion cubic metres and 1.5 billion cubic metres a year respectively, sources familiar with the matter said.

Together with the extra volume it secured from Algeria, which would replace more than half the amount it gets from Russia as early as next year.

Italy currently gets about 40 percent of its gas from Russia, and Draghi, together with local energy giant Eni SpA, have sought alternative sources since Russia invaded Ukraine in February this year.

With Eni already present in more than a dozen countries in Africa, the continent is an attractive option although the Italian leader’s energy diplomacy is causing some anxiety among European Union allies.

The Algeria deal stoked concerns in Spain that its own access to the country’s gas could be affected, prompting talks between Rome and Madrid.

“It’s really important that the EU sticks together at the moment, that’s essential,” said Oliver Sartor, senior industry adviser at think tank Agora Energiewende.

“There are some countries that are more exposed than others, so it’s normal that they would look to protect themselves. But there’s a higher priority here.”

Draghi’s trip had been expected to be followed by another one to Mozambique, though plans had not been confirmed.

Gas discoveries off the northern Mozambican coast have attracted international operators, including Eni, to its waters.
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