VIENNA/BRUSSELS, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas group signed a deal on Friday to take a 50 percent share in the Nabucco West pipeline, giving Nabucco an equal chance with the rival Trans-Adriatic pipeline. Shah Deniz now owns stakes in both competing projects, and will make a final decision on which potential route it favours in mid-2013. ‘The agreement with Nabucco West gives Socar and all the other partners legal certainty and planning security,’ said Elmar Mamedov, the head of German operations of Shah Deniz consortium member Socar, Azerbaijan’s state energy company. The European Union’s energy chief welcomed the deal signed in Vienna, as well as the earlier ratification of Azerbaijan and Turkey of the linked, Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline agreement, which will bring Azeri gas through Turkey to the edge of Europe. From there, it will connect with either Nabucco West into Austria or the alternative Trans-Adriatic pipeline, taking a more southern route via Greece and Albania into Italy to reach customers in the European Union ‘I am pleased to see that a crucial step towards realisation of the South Corridor has been taken … enabling a dedicated infrastructure for the transport of Azeri gas to the EU,’ Guenther Oettinger said in a statement. The Southern Corridor is how the European Commission refers to the projects that would wean the continent from its dependence on Russia, which supplies about 30 percent of all EU gas imports, including nearly 100 percent in six EU states. Tension between the European Union and Russia over energy has flared repeatedly and worsened since the Commission, the EU’s executive, announced last year that it was investigating suspected anti-competitive practices by Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled gas monopoly. In its bid for diversification, the Commission says it does not favour any particular project, insisting its aim is only to make gas supplies more secure and competitive. Whether TAP or Nabucco West wins depends on the consortium of companies that operates the Azeri field that will supply the gas, known as Shah Deniz II. The consortium, led by BP, Statoil, Socar, Total and ENI, is expected to take a decision over the coming months on which of the routes to link up with. TAP’s shareholders are EGL AG of Switzerland (42.5 percent), Norway’s Statoil (42.5 percent) and E.ON Ruhrgas of Germany (15 percent). Nabucco’s six shareholders are Austria’s OMV AG, Germany’s RWE AG, Hungary’s MOL through its gas pipeline operator FGSZ, Turkey’s Botas, BEH of Bulgaria and Romania’s Transgaz.
Reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt, Georgina Prodhan in Vienna and Barbara Lewis and Charlie Dunmore in Brussels; editing by Rex Merrifield and Keiron Henderson