LONDON (AFP) -The biggest underwater gas pipeline in the world, transporting gas from Norway 750 miles (1,200 kilometres) under the North Sea to Britain, has been officially opened by the prime ministers of both countries.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the project, saying it was a crucial step towards securing his country’s energy needs.
The Langeled pipeline is expected to supply one fifth of Britain’s total gas requirements in the coming decades.
Crowds of British and Norwegian schoolchildren gathered on Monday near the pipeline terminal in the village of Easington, northeast England, where they released white balloons decorated with the flags of the two countries.
Blair took part in the opening ceremony with Norwegian counterpart Jens Stoltenberg via a live video link-up from London.
Speaking after the ceremony, Blair said: “In the future, energy security will be almost as important as defence to the overall security of the country’s interests.
“Three or four years back when we began we did not even ourselves quite fully appreciate the significance of today’s event.
“The combination of rising energy prices, worries about energy security and climate change are creating a completely different context.”
Blair added that over the next 10-15 years Britain would move from a position of 80-90 percent self-sufficiency in oil and gas towards being a net importer of 80-90 percent of its needs.
The two prime ministers, meeting in central London on Monday, were also given cups of tea, the quintessential English hot drink, which was heated using gas from the pipe.
Construction of the pipeline by Norwegian firm Hydro began in 2004.
Blair meanwhile stressed that energy security was vital because of rising supply pressures and fierce demand from emerging economies such as China and India.
“There is going to be more and more pressure on energy prices because of the economic growth of China, India and the other emerging, particularly Asian, economies,” he added.
“So if we don’t get the question of energy security right now, in this period of time, we will pay a heavy price in the future for our economy and for our consumers.”
The Langeled pipeline began carrying gas unofficially about two weeks ago from the Sleipner and Troll fields in the North Sea.
Once it is connected to the Ormen Lange field further north, which is expected to become operational in October 2007, the Langeled pipeline will have an annual capacity of 20 billion cubic meters, sufficient to cover 20 percent of Britain’s natural gas needs.
Norway and Britain are currently linked by the Vesterled pipeline, carrying about 12 billion cubic meters of gas a year.
When the Vesterled and Langeled lines are operating at capacity Norway will be able to supply nearly a third of Britain’s natural gas demand.
Since the start of 2006, all major domestic energy providers in Britain have imposed steep price hikes linked to soaring wholesale energy costs.
Energy providers have blamed domestic price spikes on the cost of wholesale gas, which has risen in line with surging crude oil prices, and on their greater reliance on imports.