The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) held its 10th session in Prague on 18 December 1958, and there an agreement to construct the world’s largest oil pipleline was signed. The Druzhba Pipeline was built to meet the oil requirements of Bulgaria, Hungary, the former German Democratic Republic (GDR – East Germany), Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Work on the 5,327 km Druzhba Oil Pipeline, also known as the ‘Friendship Pipeline’, began in 1960. Each country was responsible for the construction of their section and the pipeline would be seen as the property of that country.

An agreement was made between the Soviet Union and the countries which were to take part in the construction of the pipeline. A special design bureau of Hungary, the IC Bohlen technical bureau (GDR), the Oil Project bureau (Poland), and the Chemoproject Institute (Czechoslovakia) assisted in the preparation of specific data and solutions to problems relating to their sections of the pipeline.

Constructing Druzhba

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Pipe for the line was manufactured in the Soviet Union and Poland, and fittings in Czechoslovakia. The GDR delivered pumps, and Hungary provided automation and communications equipment.

The diameter of the first stage of the pipeline ranges between 11 and 32inches, with 173 pumping units, each with a capacity of 7,000 cubic metres per hour, installed along the line.

The section on former Soviet territory (Almetievsk – Kuibyshev – Unecha – Mozyr – Brest, with the Mozyr – Brody – Uzhgorod branch line) is 3,004 km long. This part of the pipeline was designed not only to deliver oil to the European Comecon members but also to ensure supplies to oil processing plants in the western regions of Russia and the export of oil to other countries via the Baltic port of Ventspils.

Crossing the former Czechoslovak territory, from Uzhgorog – Sagi – Bratislava, Sagi – Hungarian state border, Sagi – Gnevitse, is 836 km long. The section on Polish territory stretches from the former Soviet border – Plock – former GDR border and is 675 km long. Approximately 27 km is located on former GDR territory from the state border to the town of Schwedt, and 123 km on Hungarian territory from the state border to Sashalombat.

The pipeline cost approximately 400 million roubles ($US12.7 million) to build – as much as 730,000 tonnes of pipe were laid along the route and more than 15 million cubic metres of earth were moved. The pipeline crossed 400 water barriers, including 45 major rivers, and more than 200 railways and highways.

Oil from the pipeline first reached Czechoslovakia and Poland at the beginning of 1962, and Hungary and the GDR in 1963.

Meeting demand

Over its lifetime, the Druzhba Pipeline system has provided conditions for a reliable and uninterrupted supply of Russian oil.

An important economic advantage has been the considerable reduction in transport costs – previously much of the oil was carried by rail, but with the introduction of the pipeline, transport costs fell to an average of 20–25 per cent of rail carriage figures.

To meet growing oil demand, work started in 1965 on the construction of a second stage of the Druzhba Pipeline, which followed the route of the first line and was built in separate sections by the different countries concerned. The second pipeline totals 4,412 km in length, with the diameter ranging from 28 – 47 inches.

By the end of 1974, Comecon countries had received approximately 300 MMt of oil through the Druzhba Pipeline – more than 40 MMt to Hungary, 80 MMt to the GDR, 60 MMt to Poland, and more than 100 MMt to Czechoslovakia.

Druzhba connectivity

Since its construction, there has been much interest in extending Druzhba Pipeline’s reach.

In 1973 the approximately 2,000 km Ust – Balyk – Almetievsk Pipeline came into operation. The pipeline varies in size from 40–48 inches in diameter. The construction of this pipeline made it possible to connect the Druzhba system with oil fields in West Siberia.

Construction of the 1,170 km Baltic Pipeline System-2 began in June 2009. The pipeline is set to run from the Unecha junction of the Druzhba Pipeline near the border of Russia and Belarus, to the Ust – Luga terminal on the Gulf of Finland. The project will include a 172 km lateral to the Kirishi Oil Refinery.

The pipeline is to have seven pumping stations and an initial capacity of 30 MMt/a of oil.

The pipeline will be constructed in two stages, the first of which is expected to be completed by September 2012 and the second stage by December 2013.

In addition, it has been proposed that the Adria Pipeline, which runs between the port of Omisalj in Croatia and Hungary, be reversed and connected to the Druzhba Pipeline. The pipeline has been operating since 1974 and was originally designed to load Middle Eastern oil at the port and pipe it to Yugoslavia and Hungary.

The pipeline’s reversal would mean that oil through the Druzhba Pipeline could be extended to run to an export outlet on the Adriatic Sea. Connecting the two pipelines requires the co-operation of six countries. The countries – Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia – signed an agreement in 2002, however disagreements regarding tariffs and environmental issues have hampered the pipeline’s development since then.

German Oil Trading Gmbh (GOT) has also proposed a connection to the Druzhba Pipeline, that would link Unecha to Wilhelmshaven Port. The pipeline would be 1,800 km and have a capacity of 25MMt/a of oil. GOT announced the project in 2007.

Important link for Europe

As the world’s largest oil pipeline, Druzhba remains a key link in the European energy section four decades after its initial construction. Not only was the pipeline an organisational and construction feat in the 1960s, the continued interest in European countries accessing the pipeline’s resource bodes well for pipeline projects into the future.