The NATO Pipeline: delivering fuel in peace, crisis and conflict

During large-scale, cross-border military actions, fuel for aircraft and ground vehicles must be expeditiously transported to where it is needed. The NATO Pipeline System was constructed during the Cold War to supply Alliance forces with fuel, and spare capacity is currently available for civil use.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, nations in Western Europe and North America sought a political and military alliance as a means of protection from the perceived threat of the Soviet Union. In 1949, the North American Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed after the signing of the Washington Treaty in April.

In 1952, for the first time, NATO programmed the construction of bulk fuel storage and interconnecting pipelines in Europe, and around this time Canada, France, the UK and the USA simultaneously constructed bulk aviation fuel storage and transport facilities on German territory, based on their military needs.

In 1956, the North Atlantic Council approved the organisational model for the operation and management of these bulk fuel installations, from then on considered as the NATO Pipeline System (NPS).

The NPS consists of approximately 14,500 km of pipeline running through
13 NATO nations with its associated depots, connected air bases, road tanker and rail loading stations, pump stations, refineries and entry points.

Although collectively referred to as one system, the NPS actually consists of ten separate and distinct military storage and distribution systems including:

  • The Norwegian Pipeline System;
  • The North European Pipeline System (NEPS) in Denmark and Germany;
  • The UK Government Pipeline and Storage System;
  • The Central Europe Pipeline System (CEPS) in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands;
  • The Northern Italy Pipeline System;
  • The Portuguese Pipeline System;
  • The Greek Pipeline System;
  • The Western Turkish and the Eastern Turkish Pipeline Systems; and,
  • The Icelandic Pipeline System.

CEPS – the heart of the NPS

The CEPS was constructed to facilitate the wholesale level of distribution of fuels for NATO forces in the central region of Europe. A significant part of the CEPS was funded through the NATO Security Investment Programme. The pipeline extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean. Construction work on the CEPS was planned and executed under the legislation and to the technical standards of each of the host nations.

The construction of the CEPS took many years, with separate projects in the various nations. The total number of construction companies involved is not known exactly but was significant, with each host nation responsible for pipeline construction, operation and maintenance of the installations in its own territory.

As with any joint NATO project at the time of its inception, individual nations already possessed certain capabilities and resources which had to be considered when attempting to draw the project plans together.

In the case of the CEPS, these resources were existing pipelines, storage depots, ports, rail loading points, airfield connections, pumping facilities, and trained personnel. It was a complex co-operative system, which crossed national borders while maintaining host country sovereignties.

Since 1959, spare capacities have become available for civil use, and today nearly 90 per cent of the products delivered through the system are for non-military clients, including the airports of Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Zurich, and Brussels.

Since 1989, the system has been significantly reduced, mostly because of the closure of military airfields. However, it is still vital to NATO operations. During the NATO operations in Kosovo in the late 1990s, the CEPS was one of the primary sources of fuel used in support.

The system is designed and managed to meet operational requirements in central Europe in peace, crisis and conflict, but is also used commercially under strict safeguards, supplying jet fuel to several major civil airports. The day-to-day operation of CEPS is the task of the Central Europe Pipeline Management Agency (CEPMA) located in Versailles, France.

Operating a cross-border multi-national pipeline

The operator conducts many technical inspections on the CEPS, as well as surveillance and preventive maintenance activities. Instrumented pigging of the pipelines, verification of the integrity of tank bottoms, and aerial surveillance of pipeline corridors are recurring activities.

In addition, repair and restoration works are carried out including upgrades where necessary. Repair works include repairs on pipelines and tanks resulting from the inspection programmes.

Upgrades have included the move to automated communication systems as well as the electrification of high-pressure pump stations, replacing the original diesel engines.

CEPMA says that the management of a multinational organisation is challenging.

The NATO Central Europe Pipeline Management Organisation (CEPMO) Board of Directors is the governing body acting with regard to the collective interests of all CEPMO member nations.

The principal task of the CEPMO is to manage the CEPS to satisfy the operational requirements during peace, crisis and war for the movement, storage and delivery of fuel in the central European region. In doing this, the CEPMO takes account of the political, economic, financial, legal, technological, and environmental factors resulting from its various activities. This responsibility is assessed in line with the directives of the North Atlantic Council and in collaboration with the other NATO bodies involved, and can be divided into major CEPS functional areas such as planning, capital investment, integrity, and assurance of the cohesiveness of all the elements of the CEPS in accordance with the relevant standards and operations.

The NATO CEPMA is the executive managing agency for the CEPS, co-ordinating plans and activities within the above-mentioned functional areas.

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