Gas Pipeline Meeting in Venezuela Invites Bolivia to Join Mega Project

Bolivia joined the Great Southern Gas Pipeline, during the 2nd meeting of the Ministerial Committee in charge of the project, which met in Venezuela this week. The official launch of the world’s largest gas pipeline will be in August.

Caracas, Venezuela, June 29, 2006—Bolivia officially joined the Great Southern Gas Pipeline project during meetings which took place this week in Caracas between the four participating countries: Argentina, Brazil,Venezuela and Bolivia.

“This pipeline is going to be the backbone of the all of the Southamerican community and the dream is now of four countries, because Bolivia is joining, that are going to generate strong support for the project,” announced Argentine Planning Minister Julio De Vido in a comunique distributed by Argentina. According to De Vido, there are also plans to invite Uruguay, Paraguay and others to join the project.

In Preparation for Tuesday’s Ministerial Committee meeting, working groups met on Sunday and Monday to discuss the various issues, ideas and proposals including the “market, resources, comercialization, tarif design, engeneering planning, environmental regulatory aspects, management of strategic communications, among other themes,” during the Fourth meeting of the Multilateral Work Committee.

The Ministerial Committee approved the working plan on Tuesday and also approved $150,000 to Bolivia to carry out an environmental study before the implimentation of the project.

According to an official comuniqué, the Ministerial Committee, which will meet next in September, also decided to designate a Permanent Commission, based in Venezuela, to be “exclusively dedicated to presenting, in 60 days, the terms and conditions for the contracting of the engineering conceptual design of the Great Southern Gas Pipeline.” The comuniqué announced that “each Ministry will pass on the relative information to the Commission regarding supply and demand of gas.”

The Gas Pipeline is a 8-10,000 km long, $20-25 billion project, which would run from Caracas to Buenos Aires, and would be the longest gas pipeline in the world. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says that the pipeline could take eight years to construct and could provide a million jobs.  Some analysts say that Brazil, which currently receives most of its gas from Bolivia, could save $11 billion annually in gas costs when the pipeline finally becomes operational.

De Vido expressed the importance of the pipeline “for the development of the people.” “We are entering in to a more committed operational phase,” he said, adding, “This project isn´t about economics, but rather it has an important social sense.”

But there are many critics who fear that the mere size of the project could make the Venezuelan gas too expensive, and that the pipeline could wreak environmental havoc all along the pipeline route.

In March, Brazzil magazine, reported that environmentalists from the countries in the planning stages of the Project, “have described the pipeline project as ‘a plan arising from the most antiquated, primitive neo-liberal economic development policy,’ which offers fuel that is cleaner than oil, ‘but poses greater operational risks, contributes to global warming just as oil does, will lead to deforestation all along the pipeline route, and is vulnerable to natural disasters or acts of sabotage.’”

Ironically, In a BBC interview in April, the Bolivian Vice-minister of Hydrocarbons, Julio Gómez called the proposed pipeline “ridiculous,” and announced his fears regarding the environmental impact of the proposed pipeline, which mostly likely will run through large tracks of the Amazon. Gómez also agreed that the idea did not originate with Chavez or Venezuela, but with the private oil industry.

Nevertheless, according to the Venezuelan Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, the Presidents from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Venezuela plan to meet in August to begin construction on the Great Southern Gas Pipeline.

See also: Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina Move Ahead on Integration