04/20/2011, 00.00
AZERBAIJAN
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Nabucco may finally get underway in 2011

After the preliminary agreement in January between Barroso and Azerbaijan, exploitation of the Azeri gas reserves needs to be tapped. President Aliyev receives the President of Romania indicating agreement not only economic, but includes deeper political ties.

Baku (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Three consortia are competing to win exploitation and transportation rights for gas from fields in Azerbaijan to Europe, realizing the long-awaited Nabucco project. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received the President of Romania where a long stretch of the pipeline will have to pass, and makes indirect demands of Europe.

The Shah Deniz consortium says its costs are lower, and invites other competitors to formalize their rates by 1 October, to submit to the countries concerned.

In January, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Union, during a visit to Baku signed a "preliminary" agreement to import gas. The European Union imports about 60% of the gas it consumes and relies on Russia for about 25% of its consumption, but countries such as Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania depends on it for 100% of their supply. For some time the EU has been trying to free itself from dependence on Russia, Nabucco aims to tap energy supplies from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

Turkmenistan is promising Europe, Russia and China large supplies of gas at the same time, but the pipeline would have to pass under the Caspian Sea, which has provoked the strong opposition of Russia and Iran. The route that passes from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey is far easier. Baku also has strong stability problems: the regime of President Aliyev is authoritarian, but seems to hold power securely. A pipeline from Iraq does not seem likely given its energy production is still lower than necessary and a gas pipeline would be easy prey to terrorism. Iran is suffering from a severe embargo and is not considered a reliable partner.

The pipeline could start pipe an estimated 1000 billion cubic meters of gas from the rich fields of Shah Deniz, near Sangachal, 10 billion cubic meters of which a year will go to Europe. Azerbaijan plans to produce 24 billion cubic meters of gas per year by 2017, enough to satisfy the needs of Europe.

Experts say that by the end of 2011 there will be a final decision on the Nabucco pipeline, which will go from Turkey to Bulgaria. It’s path from there on in is still under discussion, with some wanting it to cross to Italy via Greece and Albania taking advantage of existing facilities, while others think it  should go through Romania up to Austria, the heart of Europe. It is expected to bring 20 billion cubic meters of gas a year, twice what's offered by Azerbaijan.

Experts believe that the final decision of Baku will be political, as well as economic. The country has an interest in strengthening relations with neighbouring Europe. Aliyev yesterday issued a joint statement with the Romanian President Traian Basescu on a visit to Azerbaijan (see photo), stressing the strategic importance of the cooperation between the two countries. The two leaders talked mainly about energy and Aliyev remembered how "at the beginning of the year Azerbaijan and the European Union signed a statement for [creation of] the Southern Gas Corridor", including Nabucco. He also hoped that the good relations between Romania and Azerbaijan may have strong influence on the relations between Baku and Strasbourg.

Besides energy, Aliyev continued, "there are excellent prospects for the development of relations between Azerbaijan and the EU in other industries."

Baku, through gas, is trying to build a different and lasting relationship with Europe, even in an attempt to glance over the accusations of despotism and domestic problems.

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Nabucco or South Stream, the battle over energy transit to Europe is on
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