Bulgaria, Russia say making progress on gas pipeline project

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Bulgaria and Russia said on Friday they were making progress in the planned South Stream gas pipeline project and would bring forward the launch date for a joint company to build the Bulgarian stretch.

"We made considerable progress," the head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, said after a meeting here with Bulgarian Economy and Energy Minister Traicho Traikov.

"We agreed to speed up work and set up the joint Russian-Bulgarian company to operate the Bulgarian stretch of South Stream as early as November," Miller told journalists.

Originally, the joint venture had been scheduled to start work in February 2011.

Next week, Bulgaria and Gazprom would sign an agreement to begin a preliminary technical and economic feasibility study for the Bulgarian stretch of the project, Miller said.

"The talks were indeed very productive. Today, we gave a serious impetus to continuing our joint work on South Stream," Gazprom chief Miller said, predicting that the pipeline would starting feed the first gas to Europe at the end of 2015.

South Stream is is being built by Gazprom and Italy's ENI and will have the capacity to carry as many as 63 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to Europe under the Black Sea.

Bulgaria, which is almost entirely dependent on Russia for its gas, has attempted to use its participation in the project as a bargaining chip for lower prices from Gazprom.

© 2010 AFP

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