Talk of building a pipeline that would deliver Russian natural gas to South Korea by way of North Korea has been going on for decades.
But the project recently gained new momentum when North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il paid Russian President Dmitry Medvedev a visit in Siberia.
Footage aired on Russian television shows the two leaders shaking hands ahead of their summit last month. Reports say both men agreed that construction of a gas pipeline should finally be realized.
Following that meeting, officials in South Korea’s energy sector made it clear that they too want to see the pipeline finally built.
Last week, the president of South Korea’s state-run Korea Gas Corporation met with representatives of the Russian energy firm, Gazprom. The agency says that the officials worked out a road map for future gas deliveries to South Korea.
Government estimates say the pipeline would cost $3.4 billion to construct. But some analysts say, in the long run, it will pay off for South Korea.
Kang Hee-chan is an environmental and energy analyst at the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul.
“Our gas demands continue to grow. Most of the gas is from the shipping from Europe and West Asia. Those options are very costly," Kang noted. "When we can get gas from Russia through North Korea, it’s more cost competitive.”
Shared pipeline not without risks
Despite those savings, current tensions on the Korean peninsula mean the benefits might not outweigh the risks.
“In the long run, this is a very good project, its good both from the economic and political point of view," said Russia native Andrei Lankov, a North Korea analyst at Seoul’s Kookmin University. "However, in order to succeed it needs [a] stable climate of cooperation, exchanges and trust. Frankly I don’t see such climate coming anytime soon.”
Lankov says a shared natural gas pipeline would pose risks for all parties involved, but especially for South Korea.
He says Pyongyang could steal gas or even turn the pipeline off if inter-Korean relations sour. Lankov adds that Seoul would need to have a contingency plan to compensate for that loss if tensions rise.
Voice of America