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Bypassing Bosphorus and Dardanelles 16 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in Energy / Energie, Russia / Russie, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie.
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RusData Dialine – Russian Press Digest, March 16, 2007 Friday
Vedomosti, No 46, p.A1

Vasiliy Kashin; Anna Nikolayeva; Ekaterina Kudashkina

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday oversaw the signing of a long- awaited Balkan pipeline deal that will enable Russian and Caspian oil firms to export more crude to Mediterranean markets and bypass Turkey’s crowded Bosphorus Straits. Putin joined prime ministers Costas Karamanlis of Greece and Sergei Stanishev of Bulgaria for a signing ceremony in Athens, which put an end to 14 years of delays and haggling over the project, estimated to cost about $1 billion. A Russian-led consortium plans to begin construction of the 285-kilometer pipeline from Burgas on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast to Alexandroupolis on the Greek Aegean within one year. If construction starts on time, the pipeline could be ready by 2011, Greek officials have said.

« The pipeline allows us to consider how to increase the supply of oil from the Caspian Sea, which is important for groups such as the American and Kazakh companies which work there, » Putin told reporters in Athens. Karamanlis said: « It will also help international markets with improved access to oil at a time when energy is a fundamental global concern. »

State companies Transneft, Rosneft and Gazprom Neft will together hold 51 percent of shares in The International Project, the company that will own the pipeline. Bulgaria and Greece will each hold 24.5 percent. The Bulgarian stake will be held by Burgas-Alexandroupolis Oil Pipeline Project, while Hellenic Petroleum (23.5 percent) and the Greek government (1 percent) will hold Greece’s stake. The deal has also garnered widespread support from Western oil companies and U.S. government officials.

Companies engaged in oil projects in Kazakhstan, such as Chevron and KazMunaiGaz, as well as TNK-BP, are interested in joining the project, Interfax reported Thursday. A spokeswoman for Chevron in Moscow said Thursday that the company welcomed the signing of the pipeline deal and confirmed that it was interested in joining the project.

Valery Nesterov, oil and gas analyst at Troika Dialog, said there were some doubts about whether Rosneft and Gazprom Neft would be able to fill the pipeline. In this case, extra oil, most likely from Kazakhstan, would be needed, he said. Clifford Kupchan, a Washington-based analyst for risk consultancy the Eurasia Group, agreed that other oil producers could get the chance to join the project. « Whether Russia will allow other companies to use the pipeline depends on two factors: if it feels foreign volumes are useful, and if the Russian state is interested in developing deeper relations with these companies, » Kupchan said.

The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline will be the second major Bosporus bypass. The first, a $4 billion pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Turkish Mediterranean, began operations last summer – after a similar long lead-up time of more than a decade. Construction of this Bosphorus bypass « is a very important project for Russia, » said Roman Elagin, oil and gas analyst at Renaissance Capital, as it will increase the export possibilities for Russian crude. The narrow and curving Bosphorus Straits that connect the Black Sea with the Mediterranean are in some places only 700 meters wide. With more than 150 ships and nearly 3 million barrels of oil passing through the straits every day, Turkish authorities have grown increasingly concerned about the possibility of an environmental catastrophe.

In the most recent incident, a Russian freighter carrying wheat on Monday hit and sank a yacht moored on the Bosphorus in an upscale Istanbul neighborhood. Ships longer than 200 meters and those carrying dangerous cargo have been barred from passing through the straits at night and in foggy conditions, a restriction that has created severe bottlenecks and left ships waiting in line for days to enter the straits. The wait is longer when the weather turns bad in winter months. This bottleneck is what makes construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline so important, Elagin said.

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