Approximate location. The EastMed-Poseidon pipeline will run from the Eastern Mediterranean via Crete and Greece and on to Italy.
One of Europe’s largest pipeline projects is a geopolitical and environmental troublemaker. The proposed EastMed-Poseidon pipeline would cross a geopolitical minefield and bust European climate targets. It could trigger military conflicts and threaten the underwater life of the Mediterranean Sea. Local people, and especially Palestinian and North Cypriot communities, would lose out on the benefits that fossil companies and governments would reap.
Too Long, Too Deep and Too Risky
DEPA and Edison, the proponents of the EastMed-Poseidon project, want the pipeline to snake along the seabed of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and into the heart of Europe. The project combines two pipelines. The gas would flow through the EastMed pipeline from Israeli gas fields via Cypriot and Greek waters and come ashore in Greece. The offshore part of the Greek Poseidon pipeline would take the gas further to Italy. From there, it would flow on into Europe. Along this route, DEPA and Edison hope to transport 10 billion cubic meters of fossil gas every year. To develop the project, the two companies have established the Joint Venture IGI Poseidon, and they are already talking about doubling the pipeline’s capacity in future.
If EastMed-Poseidon goes online, it would become the longest gas pipeline in Europe and the deepest subsea pipeline in the world. It would take more than 17 hours at 120 km/h to drive the 2110 km (13117 mi) of the pipeline. The 1350 km (839 mi)-long offshore section of the EastMed pipeline between Israel and Greece would reach as deep as 3000 meters (9842 ft). No pipeline has ever run this deep. With a EUR 7.3 billion price tag, the EastMed pipeline alone could quickly become one of the most expensive pipelines in the European Union (EU). It is not yet clear who would be willing to finance the costly project.
A Geopolitical Minefield
The EastMed pipeline would pass right through a geopolitical minefield in the Eastern Mediterranean. While Israel, Cyprus and Greece passionately promote EastMed, their maritime neighbor Turkey opposes the project. The Turkish government does not want competition for the Southern Gas Corridor, which runs from Azerbaijan through Turkey to Europe.
Since the 1970s, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been in conflict. The three countries cannot agree on their maritime borders. In 2019, Turkey and Libya tried to redraw the borders in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish government claimed to protect its rights and waters. Effectively, the 2 countries created a geopolitical barrier in the middle of the proposed path of the EastMed pipeline. Greece and Cyprus do not accept the boundaries drawn up by Libya and Turkey. Still, they do not know how the Turkish government would react if they decide to ignore Turkey’s claims and push the project forward.
Oil and gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean have only worsened the conflicts between Turkey and its neighbors. Whenever research or drilling ships enter disputed waters, military warships follow to protect them. In August 2020, aggressions peaked when a Turkish research ship entered disputed waters to search for oil and gas. When the Greek military tried to block their way, a Greek and a Turkish warship collided. No one knows when the situation might escalate again. NGOs from the respective countries doubt that EastMed could bring peace to this geopolitically tense region, as some politicians believe. The StopEastMed campaign argues that the pipeline and further gas expansion will heat up the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean even more.
“In the Mediterranean, all the coastal states, and some major powers, are saber rattling over fossil fuel reserves under the sea. These dangerous rivalries threaten the safety of all the peoples of our countries […] We say no to new fossil fuel exploration and development of reserves! We say no to conflict between our countries! We say yes to climate justice and to peace!”
Petition to end the fossil fuel race in the Eastern Mediterranean signed by more than 60 organizations from Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.
Levantine Gas for Europe
The gas for the EastMed-Poseidon pipeline would come from the Levantine Basin. This deep marine basin holds an enormous amount of fossil fuels. It lies in the Mediterranean Sea between Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Since the early 2000s, fossil gas companies have become more and more eager to explore and drill for new gas in the Levantine Basin. The Russian invasion of Ukraine means gas companies in the region might move even faster. For them, the EastMed-Poseidon pipeline plans are an exciting opportunity to search and produce even more Levantine gas.
At the moment, the only gas producer in the Levantine Basin that has formally committed to the EastMed-Poseidon pipeline is a company known for business activities in the legal grey zone. The gas producer Energean has signed a contract to supply the EastMed-Poseidon pipeline with 2 billion cubic meters of gas every year. In 2010, Energean’s co-founders took advantage of a dubious banking scheme involving the Cypriot bank Laiki. The loans propped up the dying business of the Laiki Chairman and eventually pushed the Cypriot economy towards ruin. Energean’s involvement further weakens trust in the EastMed-Poseidon project. Chevron, Eni, Shell and the other gas producers of the Levantine Basin have yet to put their name under the EastMed-Poseidon project. Nevertheless, they most likely stand to benefit if it goes through.
A Gas Fortune at the Cost of Local Communities
All along the route of the EastMed Poseidon pipeline, local communities stand to suffer from the project. The Israeli government senses big opportunities from gas production for the EastMed-Poseidon pipeline. Israel used to be completely dependent on energy imports. Now, the country hopes that gas expansion and the pipeline plans will turn it into a major energy exporter in the region.
Israel aims to generate huge profits from a resource that it refuses to share with Palestinians. Although the Israeli government granted Palestinians access to a 37 km strip (20 mi) off the coast of the occupied Gaza strip, Palestinians have no say over the gas resources located there. Israeli authorities and the military control the waters and gas fields. The fossil money would not benefit Palestinians, who have been losing out on Israel’s gas ambitions and continue to suffer under Israeli occupation.
In Cyprus, the peace between the Turkish-Cypriot communities in the north and the Greek-Cypriot communities in the south is fragile. If the pipeline reignites military tensions between Cyprus and Turkey, the people of Cyprus will bear the cost of militarization. In Italy, the Poseidon pipeline will run ashore in Otranto, only around 20 km (12 mi) from the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), the final section of the Southern Gas Corridor. Many people living in the area have received fines and faced immense legal costs because they resisted TAP. The Poseidon pipeline would deal them another blow.
Intrusion of A Biodiversity Hotspot
Deep below the waves of the Mediterranean Sea lies a mystic underwater world. Submarine canyons, mud volcanoes and seamounts cover the seafloor. Scientists are still exploring what lives under crushing pressures in this moon-like landscape. Despite its small area, the Mediterranean Sea is home to numerous marine animals and plants. More than 17,000 marine species live in the Mediterranean Sea. 20 to 30 percent of these are unique to the region. Today, climate change troubles the rare ecosystem. Pollution and global warming threaten to wipe out many of the species that live in this biodiversity hotspot. For DEPA and Edison, these endangered dark and unknown waters are nothing more than a construction site for their EastMed pipeline.
The EastMed-Poseidon pipeline runs counter the EU’s own climate action. To prevent global warming beyond 1.5°C, the EU wants to bring its fossil gas consumption to zero by 2049. The EastMed-Poseidon project would add to Europe’s climate bill, not reduce it. If the project goes through, burning the gas from the pipeline could in total emit as much as 950 million tons of carbon by 2050. This equals the amount of carbon emitted by France, Spain and Italy in a year. As alternatives to the EastMed Poseidon route, EU officials have discussed shipping gas as LNG or transporting it via Egypt. Regardless of how it reaches Europe, increased import of fossil gas will bust EU climate targets.
Despite the climate costs of EastMed-Poseidon, the EU continues to throw its weight behind the pipeline. Like the Southern Gas Corridor, EastMed is among the EU’s favorite fossil gas projects. In 2015, EastMed was announced as a European “Project of Common Interest” (PCI). The PCI status qualifies EastMed for fast-tracked permits and EU funds. So far, the EU has handed out more than EUR 36 million to the project. Counter to its own commitments to move away from gas, the European Parliament in April 2022 voted to continue political and financial support for the EastMed project.
Not Dead Yet
In January 2022, the United States withdrew its support for the EastMed pipeline. Despite this blow, the plans for the EastMed-Poseidon project live on. Its proponents continue to examine whether the mega pipeline would be technically feasible and how to secure financing.
Many consider the EastMed-Poseidon project half-dead. However, environmental groups won’t stop protesting until the involved companies and governments have all truly abandoned it. More than 100 European organisations have urged the EU to stay away from the pipeline. Their message is clear: There is no space for a problem-pipeline like EastMed-Poseidon in Europe.
Groups working on EastMed-Poseidon: Kazma Birak, PENGON (Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network), ReCommon, Green Course, Gastivists, Avli Collective, Friends of the Earth Cyprus, Palestinian BDS National Committee, Global Witness
 EastMed received the status of a Project of Common Interest (PCI) first in 2015: https://ec.europa.eu/inea/en/connecting-europe-facility/cef-energy/7.3.1-0025-elcy-s-m-15. In 2022, EastMed is still listed on the EU’s 5th PCI list.