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Azerbaijan To Evaluate BP's Europe-Bound Gas Pipeline

BP PLC (BP) has proposed an alternative pipeline project to feed Europe with Caspian natural gas, as the fight among competing pipeline projects heats ahead of a deadline that is being closely watched by European governments and energy companies.

The BP project, called South East Europe Pipeline, would link a major Azerbaijan gas field to a gas hub in Austria, running from western Turkey across Bulgaria and Romania to Hungary's border, a similar route to that of EU-backed Nabucco pipeline. There are two other leading pipeline proposals for tapping Azeri gas, in addition to the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline that would increase Russian gas exports to Europe.

As the operator of the Shah Deniz field - the main Azeri gas natural field - BP holds influence over which pipeline the Shah Deniz consortium will choose. News of the BP proposal comes just ahead of an October 1 deadline for competing pipeline projects to present a detailed transportation offer to the Shah Deniz consortium. The consortium is expected to make a final decision by the end of the year.

A BP spokeswoman said the BP line would be considered alongside the other options.

"While this is not an advanced project, this is a possible export solution," BP's spokeswoman for Azerbaijan Tamam Bayatly told Dow Jones Newswires. "The three pipeline projects will submit their proposals by October 1, and in parallel there is a fourth possible option that will be looked at," she said.

The European Union has pushed hard to secure gas from Shah Deniz to reduce its dependency on Russia, especially among Eastern European EU members. The EU argues Nabucco is the best option because its greater size would effectively open a "southern corridor" for Caspian gas transit to Europe beyond Shah Deniz supplies.

But BP and Azerbaijan's State Oil Company --two of the main players in the Shah Deniz consortium-- have expressed their concerns about Nabucco, because they are afraid that two thirds of the pipeline --whose capacity is planned at 31 bcm per year for a length of 3,900 kilometers-- will remain empty, making transportation of their gas too expensive.

"We want a pipeline that will make our Shah Deniz project commercially viable by reducing pipeline costs, whilst maintaining optionality to scale up capacity as new production becomes available," Bayatly said.

The pipeline proposed by BP would be 1,300 kilometers long, a third of the length of Nabucco, making it a cheaper project.

Another competitor is the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, or TAP being developed by three companies, including Norwegian oil and gas giant Statoil ASA (STO, STL.OS), which also has a stake in Shah Deniz. ITGI, Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy, backed by Italy's Edison SpA (EDN.MI) and Greek gas monopoly DEPA, is the third challenger and the most advanced project in terms of engineering and construction permits.

Source: Dow Jones Newswires
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