In the midst of the legal case being prosecuted by Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas for alleged irregularities in the acquisition of the pipelines and the renewed official promises that the work deadlines will not be affected, practically no one in the construction and gas engineering companies is betting that the Néstor Kirchner gas pipeline in Vaca Muerta will be ready and operational before next winter.
In addition to the temporary delay caused by the judicialization of the work and the delay in the segmented bids of the project carried out by Enarsa officials, there are two other relevant factors that have not yet been solved and that promise to stretch the construction times of the gas pipeline beyond mid 2023.
The first one involves the procedures related to the liberalization of the route, which include right-of-way agreements, partial expropriations, agreements to cross roads and railroads and the environmental approvals of each provincial jurisdiction.
In addition, there is a second key element referred to the transportation logistics that will be necessary to move the pipes from the Greater Buenos Aires to the work areas as the works progress from the town of Tratayén in the Province of Neuquén to Salliqueló in the Province of Buenos Aires.
Gas pipeline: an ambitious and necessary project
The gas pipeline -which the Government baptized as "President Néstor Kirchner", but which the opposition wants to rename as "Energía Neuquina"- is intended to increase the natural gas transportation capacity from the Vaca Muerta field to the major consumption centers of the AMBA metropolitan region and the provinces of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe.
In a first stage, it will allow the transportation of 24 million additional cubic meters per day and will require an investment of between u$s 1,300 and 1,500 million. In a second stage, it is expected to increase the transportation capacity to 40 million cubic meters per day with a package of works valued between US$ 1,200 and US$ 1,500 million that will extend the pipeline from Salliqueló to San Jerónimo in the province of Santa Fe.
The initial schedule of the multiple bidding process of the work outlined by Enarsa's management - headed by the Santa Cruz K, Agustín Gerez - has been delayed. So far, the only bidding process closed and awarded is the one corresponding to the supply of pipelines. With a single offer of u$s 436 million, it was won by SIAT-Tenaris, the company of the Techint group which, after the conflict unleashed by the former Minister of Production, Matías Kulfas, has been involved in the ongoing judicial investigation.
Only the final signature of the purchase contract and the payment of an advance payment of u$s 150 million for the import of the steel plates from Brazil remain to be done.
More offers under analysis
Meanwhile, the offers received in the bids for the acquisition of valves, electrodes, heat-shrinkable blankets, measurement sections, chromatographs and other elements necessary for the assembly of the gas pipeline are still under analysis. In the case of the valves, it is already known that they will be declared void and that a new call for bids will have to be made.
On the other hand, the most important bidding process for the civil works, valued at around US$ 800 million, was launched a week ago.
The package that includes "the engineering services, the supply of materials and the construction of the works" of the first stage of the gas pipeline was divided into five blocks and the interested companies will have to submit their quotations on July 8.
Deadlines that will not be met
Beyond the delay of these tenders, which make it almost impossible for the gas pipeline to be finished by June next year -as Energy officials and even the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Sergio Massa, continue to maintain-, those who know this type of infrastructure works stress that from the beginning of the works, at least 15 months of work are needed, with the wind in the wind, to start injecting gas into the pipelines.
In order to be able to conclude the works and enable the gas pipeline in that period of time, the two intrinsic obstacles of the project, which have not yet been thoroughly addressed by the officials, would have to be solved and planned.
Regarding the legal procedures prior to the beginning of the works, Enarsa must manage and sign numerous agreements with the private owners of the land through which the gas pipeline will pass and a series of agreements with other state entities in charge of transport networks that will be crossed by the laying of the pipelines.
With the owners of the fields, it has to define the agreements for permission of passage and easements to be able to release the route. If an understanding is not reached, it will have to proceed to expropriate the areas affected by the work "for public utility", with the consequent administrative and judicial delays that each procedure of this type will entail.
With the provincial and municipal governments, Enarsa 's officers will have to sign the corresponding agreements for the use of unimproved public roads, hard surface trucks, roads and highways within each jurisdiction.
In turn, Vialidad Nacional and the railroad area of the Ministry of Transportation will have to obtain the authorizations and authorizations for the laying of the pipelines to cross the national routes and the railway branches that are in its path. In addition, provincial environmental permits and approvals must be obtained in order to cross the rivers and watercourses along the route.
Néstor Kirchner Gas Pipeline: what will the future bring?
So far, these tasks are in their infancy and Enarsa 's intention is to hire private law firms, engineers and notaries to carry out these matters.
The other aspect that will have to work almost perfectly and that has not yet started to be planned is the one related to the logistics for the transportation of the pipes from the Siat-Tenaris plant in Valentín Alsina to the different fronts that will be set up for the works.
In order to comply with the gas pipeline installation times stipulated by the administration of Alberto Fernández, a minimum operating movement of between 80 and 100 trucks per day would be required on the routes to transport the pipes necessary to maintain a rate of progress of 6 kilometers per working day.
Such a logistic movement would only be possible with a precise clockwork mechanism that does not have to face the two most serious problems that currently affect cargo transportation due to the Government's inaction: the lack of diesel oil and the road and street blockades that are recurrently carried out by the piqueteros movements.