06/24/2008, 00.00
EUROPE - IRAN - CENTRAL ASIA
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Europe could soon buy energy from Iran, against U.S. wishes

The natural gas pipeline Nabucco, running from Turkey to Austria, will also transport energy from Iran, and from all other producers. In the future, it could be connected with pipelines running under the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russia to bring energy from Central Asia to Europe.

Ankara (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The "Nabucco" natural gas pipeline could bring Iranian gas to Europe, despite opposition from the United States, and then be connected to central Asia under the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russia. Nabucco, in fact, will by 2013 cross 3,300 kilometres from eastern Turkey through Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, to Baumgarten, Austria, bypassing Russia and depriving it of its current monopoly over the gas pipelines from Central Asia to Europe.  But it is not clear where it will get the 31 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year that it will be able to carry.

At the beginning of June, the head of the Turkish energy company Botas suggested that gas would need to be bought from countries including Iran in order to guarantee supplies.  This is against the firm opposition of U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state Matthew Bryza, whose country considers Tehran a supporter of terrorism, and wants to isolate it because of its suspected nuclear weapons program. 

But now Reinhard Mitschek, managing director of Vienna-based Nabucco Gas Pipeline International, tells Radio Free Europe that "we expect gas from Azerbaijan, from Turkmenistan, from Kazakhstan, from Iran, from Iraq, from Egypt, from Russia. And therefore we are not fully dependent on one of these sources because we expect a whole portfolio of gas-supply sources. That's very attractive for the gas buyers in Europe".

The 27 countries of the European Union consumed 500 bcm of gas and 2007, 300 of which were imported and 200 produced in Europe. But Mitschek expects that over the next 10-15 years, consumption will increase to 700 bcm, while production will fall to about 100 bcm, with annual imports of at least 600 bcm. "Nabucco", Mitschek clarifies, "is not a buyer of gas", it only transports it to those who buy it, including from Iran.  Iran has estimated reserves of 23 trillion cubic metres of gas, and in March the Swiss company Elektrizitaets-Gesellschaft Laufenburg concluded an agreement with the National Iranian Gas Export Company for supplies of 5.5 bcm per year for 20 years, beginning in 2010.  Over protests from Washington, the company replied that there are no international sanctions against investing in energy with Iran, and that the supplies are also to Italy's benefit.

"Iran announced recently", Mitschek concludes, "that they are keen to construct . . . a pipeline from the South Pars field to the north to Tehran and finally to the Turkish border".

But the Nabucco project also looks beyond Iran: European companies could favour agreements between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan for a natural gas pipeline across the narrowest part of the Caspian Sea, "only" 200 kilometres wide, to connect to the gas fields of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, bypassing the Russian pipelines.  The Russian giant Gazprom is also planning a new pipeline, the "South Stream", parallel to Nabucco. Mitschek does not see the projects as necessarily in competition: both are useful for satisfying Europe's hunger for energy.

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