Washington throws weight behind EU-backed pipe

The US government is confident that the NABUCCO pipeline to pump gas from the resource-rich Caspian and Central Asia regions to Europe by-passing Russia will be built and considers it no less important than the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main export pipeline constructed in the 1990s, a senior State Department official said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza said NABUCCO was pivotal to help European allies diversify sources of supply and reduce dependence on Russia.
"The NABUCCO pipeline will be built, I am convinced, because it makes commercial sense," Bryza told reporters after talks with EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
"We are trying to build on the success of the last decade and expand the infrastructure put in place with the same commitment, the same intensity," he said.
Bryza said the planned 3,300 km pipeline across Turkey to central Europe was a much more cost-efficient way of transporting gas from Azerbaijan to Europe than the rival South Stream pipeline project of Russian monopoly Gazprom.
Bryza said exporting gas from Azerbaijan through NABUCCO would be 40-50% cheaper than via South Stream.
He also criticized Gazprom, saying the United States was not in favor of energy monopolies.
The US official said Azeri gas could fill the Turkey-Italy pipeline and even NABUCCO.
German company RWЕ became the sixth shareholder of the project early in February. RWЕ has now acquired a 16.67% stake in the project, just like the other five shareholders. The participating interests are also held by Turkish Botas company, Romanian Transgas, Bulgarian Bulgargas, Austrian OMV, and Hungarian MOL.
On February 7, French energy major Gaz de France that was seen as another bidder for the project said that after talks on its joining the NABUCCO project failed, other initiatives in Europe would be considered.
Ankara had come out against the participation of Gaz de France due to Paris's opposition to Turkey's EU membership bid and its stance on the alleged "Armenian genocide" issue. Turkey instead made an unexpected proposal for Russia to join the NABUCCO project. Foreign Minister Ali Babacan extended the invitation in a meeting with Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, Turkish Zaman newspaper reported.
"Turkey and Russia are not rivals on energy issues but act as mutually complimenting partners," the minister said on a visit to Russia.
Turkey meets 65% of its demand for natural gas and 25% of its demand for oil on account of Russian energy resources.
Ankara's veto on France's joining the West-backed project and instead offering Moscow to participate in it has drawn the attention of the world community.
The NABUCCO project estimated at $6 billion aims to deliver 30 billion cubic meters of gas to European markets through a 3,300-kilometer pipeline from Turkey through Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary to Austria. Building the conduit could take until 2012, while transportation of first gas via the pipe is expected in 2013.