Efforts to reach an agreement between the United States and North Korea have somewhat soured, and the future of denuclearization is unclear as the two countries seem to have different definitions of the word. But peace efforts between the two Koreas have better prospects and the two nations are considering the many ways their countries can benefit from improved economic relations. Solely political solutions have previously failed to improve regional tensions but experts are optimist that economic incentives could bring North Korea out of the cold. A proposal for a trans-Korea pipeline is one such project. Previously proposed in a 2008 Memorandum of Understanding between South Korea and Russia’s gas companies, it once again rises to prominence as increasing demand for power, due to population growth and heavy manufacturing, continues to make energy security a concern for the region.

As the World Energy Council (WEC) envisages it, the pipeline would carry piped natural gas (PNG) from the Sakhalin island in Russia, through North Korea, and into South Korea – adding 750 kilometers to an existing Sakhalin-Vladivostok pipeline. Economically, PNG would curb appetite for LNG and replace the plans to build infrastructure to liquefy and re-gasify LNG at ports then transport it. It has scalable potential, extending the pipeline underwater to include other energy-intensive Northeast Asia economies like China and Japan – making it a regional initiative that could lay the foundation for an economic agreement, similar to NAFTA, based on energy infrastructure. There is also the possibility of feeding-in gas from the United States and Russia. This could shift geopolitics in a region that previously relied on LNG, coal, and nuclear energy.

This huge project is not without risk. Pipelines often cost more money than originally projected, and pose significant environment concerns during and after their construction on both land and sea. Logistically, constructing and operating the pipeline would require close communication between the nations, and years of research to plot such a project. Politically, the economically-beneficial participation of China, Russia and the US would be a risk for many countries considered in the deal, and North Korea’s self-reliance philosophy and lack infrastructure put into question their willingness to participate in such a project. In addition, linking energy sources via North Korea also creates that possibility for the country to turn off the pipeline in times of tension with the South.

The project is now under consideration in South Korea’s New Northern Policy, with talks ongoing between Seoul and Moscow. WEC, the largest network of energy-sector professionals, is at the center of it, and they hope to buoy support for the project in their next World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi in 2019.


Further Reading:

Could a pipeline of peace help unite Northeast Asia?

Trans-Korea gas pipeline project reappears, but challenges remain

As tensions cool, a new future for the Trans-Korea natural gas pipeline?


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