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Bulgaria could lose South Stream deal to Romania

Date: 20.10.2008

Russian gas giant Gazprom was in talks to secure an alternative route for its planned South Stream gas pipeline through Romania, which would bypass Bulgaria entirely.

Gazprom is now negotiating a new long-term deal for gas supplies to Romania and chief executive Alexey Miller met Romanian ambassador in Moscow Constantin Grigorie, as well as the heads of two Romanian state-owned gas companies, the previous week.

The meeting was focused on prospects for developing and creating new transit capacities, as well as co-operation for storage of gas underground,Kommersant quoted Gazprom as saying. Talks will continue in the near future with Vlad Rusakov, the head of Gazprom's strategic development department, scheduled to visit Bucharest.

If they go well, Gazprom could redirect South Stream to pass through Romania, a source familiar with the talks told Kommersant. Another source in Russia's Energy Ministry has confirmed for the newspaper that the prospect of replacing Bulgaria with its northern neighbour was being discussed, but declined to give more details.

Gazprom is likely trying to persuade gas operators Bulgargaz in Bulgaria and Transgaz in Romania to ditch their stakes in Nabucco, the European Union-backed gas pipeline that would link gas fields in the Caspian Sea to Central Europe, passing through Turkey and the Balkans. Nabucco is seen as a direct competitor for South Stream and the EU has recently stepped up efforts to build the pipeline to diminish its dependency on Russian supplies.

Redirecting South Stream to Romania would also cut down the costs of construction, since it would shave off about 100km of the underwater section of the pipeline, saving up to 12 per cent of the estimated $10 billion needed to build it, according to the head of East European Gas Analysis consultancy, Mihail Korchemkin.

Earlier in October, Russian business daily Vedomosti reported, quoting a strategy paper outlining the development of the gas industry in Russia, that South Stream faced a delay of two years and would become operational in 2015. By 2024, it would reach its full capacity and pump 31 billion cu m of gas annually, which owns the project together with Italy's Eni, plans to finish the business plans for each individual country that the pipeline will pass through in the third quarter of 2009.

Russia has already secured agreements with Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary for the transit of South Stream.

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