African energy giants Algeria, Nigeria and Niger signed a memorandum of understanding Thursday on a vast gas pipeline project offering Europe potential future alternatives to Russian supplies, state media reported.
The Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP) would transport billions of cubic metres of gas some 4,128 kilometres (2,565 miles) from Nigeria in West Africa, north through Niger and on to Algeria.
From there it could be pumped through the Mediterranean undersea Transmed pipeline to Italy, or loaded onto liquefied natural gas tankers for export.
On Thursday, Algerian Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab hosted his counterparts from Nigeria and Niger, Timipre Sylva and Mahamane Sani, for talks on the project, state news agency APS reported.
The contents of the memorandum of understanding were not disclosed, but the long-dormant project has seen an uptick in interest in recent months as gas prices have surged following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
When the TSGP was first proposed in 2009, the cost of building it was estimated at $10 billion.
As well as serving European markets, gas could be diverted to serve markets along the route of the pipeline or elsewhere in the Sahel region.
Algeria, Africa's largest natural gas exporter, has already seen increased demand following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, with Western nations scouring the globe to find supplies to replace oil and gas from Russia.
Algiers is seeking further ways to capitalise on high global energy prices.
But the TSGP would face formidable logistical and security challenges, passing through thousands of kilometres of desert where jihadist groups have waged a long insurgency.
"A pipeline like this would be hugely vulnerable, not just to attacks by jihadists but also by local communities if they feel they're getting exploited by a project from which they derive no benefit," said Geoff D. Porter, an energy expert with North Africa Risk Consulting.
"And then, who's going to finance it?"