Natural gas deal extended

SOFIA (Reuters) – Russia’s gas giant Gazprom said on Wednesday it would sign a new agreement with Bulgaria in March to keep on exporting gas via the Balkan country to Turkey and southern Europe after 2010. Gazprom, which is Bulgaria’s only gas supplier, currently exports gas via Bulgaria to Turkey, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under a deal that expires in 2010. (Greece gets the vast majority of the natural gas it uses from Gazprom via Bulgaria. A small amount, imported as liquefied natural gas, comes from Algeria. Last year, Greece signed an agreement with Turkey to get natural gas from the Caspian Sea via a branch pipeline.) «Bulgaria is an important country in transiting gas to Turkey and southern Europe… and the market in this region has been constantly expanding,» Gazprom’s Chief Executive Alexei Miller told a news conference in Sofia at the end of a one-day visit. «During the visit of (Russia’s) President (Vladimir) Putin to Sofia in March, we will sign a new agreement to transit gas via Bulgaria after 2010,» Miller said. He declined to say how much Russian gas Bulgaria would transport this year or whether there would be an increase from last year. Bulgaria transported 12.7 billion cubic meters of gas in 2001, up 7 percent from the previous year. Data for 2002 were not immediately available. Miller said Gazprom would take part in the possible privatization of Bulgaria’s gas monopoly Bulgargas, which is the country’s single gas importer and owns the entire 2,200-kilometer (1,380-mile) pipeline network. The government in Sofia has said it would keep Bulgargas state-owned for now. Miller also said Gazprom was interested in buying big gas consumers in Bulgaria, such as chemical plants, to which it was ready to sell gas at lower prices once it acquired stakes in them. He did not give more details.