Gazrpom secures gas pipeline study deal with Romania

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Moscow and Bucharest on Wednesday signed an agreement to study Romania's participation in a Gazprom-led gas pipeline, another blow to Europe's efforts to loosen Russia's grip on energy supplies.

Alexei Miller, chief executive of Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer, clinched a preliminary agreement after talks with Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc and other top officials in Romania.

"Alexei Miller and the CEO of Transgaz SA Florin Cosma signed a memorandum of intent on the preparation of technical and economic feasibility studies for the passage of the South Stream pipeline through Romanian territory," Gazprom said in a statement following the talks.

"As part of this memorandum, the parties agreed to form a joint expert group to undertake the technical and feasibility studies."

Romania's state-owned pipeline operator Transgaz is already a partner in Nabucco, a European Union-led project which envisages a pipeline bypassing Russia and sending gas from the Caucasus and Central Asia to Western Europe via Turkey and the Balkans.

If the studies are successful, the companies will aim to sign an intergovernmental agreement in the first quarter of next year, Gazprom said.

"That agreement will become a political and international legal foundation for the further realisation of the project in Romania," the statement said, adding an agreement between the two companies would then follow shortly.

The South Stream pipeline plans to carry Russian gas under the Black Sea and into the Balkans to create a new energy route to Europe that will bypass Ukraine.

Russian officials have on occasion shown disdain for the Nabucco project, wondering where the gas to fill it will come from even if it is built.

Moscow has also been keen to try to sway key European energy countries to its side and in July bagged a deal with Bulgaria -- which says it is committed to both the South Stream and Nabucco pipelines -- to speed up work on the Russian project.

© 2010 AFP

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