Neptun Deep - offshore platform simulation; Credit: OMV Petrom

Europe’s mega gas project braving perils as plot twist emerges from explosive-ridden Black Sea waters

An analysis has put a new spin on the ride-or-die opposition to the development of a $4.4 billion deepwater gas project in the European Union (EU) by arguing that this giant undertaking is enveloped in danger as its planned drilling activities and steps to bring the field online will need to take place smack dab in the middle of a war zone, surrounded by water depths rigged with sea mines.

Neptun Deep - offshore platform simulation; Credit: OMV Petrom

Ever since South-Eastern Europe’s OMV Petrom disclosed its plans to develop the $4.4 billion Neptune Deep deepwater gas project, the dust over the decision has not been able to settle, as it sparked environmental activists’ ire, with Greenpeace holding a rally at the firm’s headquarters in Bucharest against the project to urge the energy industry to move away from drilling for more gas and embrace the transition to renewables.

This project, which will be the first and largest natural gas project in the Romanian part of the Black Sea, covering the Domino and Pelican South fields, is a 50:50 partnership between the operator, OMV Petrom, and Romgaz, Romania’s producer and main supplier of natural gas. Drilling operations are expected to be carried out with one of Transocean’s rigs. Last Friday, the Romanian environmental authority provisionally approved the Neptun Deep project as part of the environmental impact assessment (EIA).

According to Greenpeace, the results of an estimate commissioned by its Romanian branch indicate that the Neptun Deep project could generate over 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over 20 years, putting the EU’s carbon neutrality target at risk. As a result, the group intends to file a lawsuit, if the EIA is finally approved. Aside from the EIA, the building permit and the approval of the responsible offshore supervisory authority, ACROPO, are still pending.

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Aside from the alleged climate and environmental threats this development poses to Europe’s decarbonization agenda, a new analysis from Greenpeace suggests that the EU’s largest gas project in the Black Sea brings safety challenges too, with the region being labeled as the theatre of Russia’s war against Ukraine. As a result, the waters of the Black Sea are said to be littered with sea mines, which are believed to have been the culprits of more than one accident in recent months.

Marc Dengler, Climate and Energy Expert at Greenpeace Austria, highlighted: “Betting on the development of fossil gas to secure Europe’s energy security is already a reckless gamble, given the well-documented climate, social, and environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels.

“But betting on the development of fossil gas, furthermore in the middle of a war zone, is outright irresponsibility. The question of energy security raised by the Russian war on Ukraine cannot be answered by a project that is itself exposed to massive risks as a result of this very war.”

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With the fighting in Ukraine continuing unabated, Greenpeace claims that accidents and disruptions cannot be ruled out if the Neptun Deep project is constructed in the vicinity of the hostilities. When the project’s offshore platform is up and running, activists underline that sea mines, which have been used in the course of the battle, can damage the transport pipeline, anchors, or boreholes. These mines are said to have already damaged a cargo ship, sunk one ship, and killed a person.

The report emphasizes free-floating sea mines, which can pose problems for years after hostilities, entertaining the possibility that such mines will present a safety problem in the Black Sea for a long time to come. While Türkiye, Romania, and Bulgaria inked an agreement in January 2024 to clear the Black Sea of floating mines, Greenpeace claims that the Romanian navy was called to neutralize such a mine near the Neptun Deep gas field.

As a result, the climate activist group’s branch in Austria warns of possible accidents and calls for an immediate halt to the Neptun Deep development, underlining that these mines and the geopolitical context pose a serious threat to the fossil gas project. The climate group also points out that OMV did not include them in its project’s environmental impact assessment.

Furthermore, Greenpeace is adamant that such mines, which are loaded with up to 160 kg of explosives and designed to severely damage ships, present a plausible danger for the project, with nearly 100 sea mines already needing to be defused, since the start of the war, representing an average of one sea mine per week.

In line with this, insurance companies are perceived to consider the risks very high, putting insurance premiums for ships in the Black Sea up to 30-fold and considerably higher than in other crisis areas such as the Red Sea. OMV has revealed that the project’s carbon footprint of around 2.2 kg CO2/boe is anticipated at plateau production, as opposed to the industry average of 16.7 kg CO2/boe.

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With this in mind, Greenpeace underlines that new gas projects like Neptun Deep are not only dangerous undertakings but also incompatible with the 1.5-degree threshold, despite fossil fuel players putting many such infrastructure projects under development in Europe with the excuse of securing the continent’s energy supply to push their gas agenda.

The environmental group has called for an EU-wide ban on new oil and gas projects, along with an accelerated transition to renewables and improved energy efficiency, as the best recipe to secure what it deems to be a safe and healthy future for all.

The 7,500 square km Neptune Deep block in the Black Sea is located approximately 160 kilometers from the shore, in waters between 100 and 1,000 meters. The first gas is expected in 2027, with production of around 8 bcm annually or about 140,000 boe/d for almost ten years.