Botas deadline shaky; more Russian gas flows

ANKARA/SOFIA (Reuters) – The Turkish state pipeline company Botas may postpone the bidding deadline for gas contracts for a fifth time, but will not cancel the $4 billion plan despite a new law, an energy official said yesterday. Botas opened a tender in the first week of November 2004 which aimed for the transfer of a portion of the gas bought from Russia, Iran, Nigeria and Algeria under contracts which expire between 2012 and 2026. Under a new law passed by the parliament in June, the companies need the consent of the gas supplier countries for the transfer of contracts. Some said this law would cause the cancellation of the contract transfer plan. Energy officials told Reuters last year that the transfer of gas contracts was unrealistic because the countries which sell gas to Turkey are opposed to such a move. The company has postponed the bidding deadline four times since it first opened the tender process, and the current deadline is Sept. 27. A legal change in the tender conditions require pre-qualification for the bidders, and companies should be given time for this, an official said. «The executive board will decide on the postponement of the deadline, but the companies should have the time to get the pre-qualification documents,» an official said. Analysts say that Botas could postpone the deadline to end-2005. The government wants to break up the monopoly of the gas and oil pipeline concern Botas in its free market drive as part of economic reforms pledged to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. A law passed in 2001 envisages Botas selling its natural gas imports and wholesale contracts to lower its market share to 20 percent by 2009. The contracts correspond to 64 percent of Turkey’s 25 billion-cubic-meter natural gas consumption. Bulgarian gas monopoly Bulgargas said yesterday the transit of Russian natural gas through Bulgaria had increased by almost a quarter on an annual basis in the first seven months of this year. Transit up Gas transit went up by 24.47 percent to 9.166 billion cubic meters from January to June 2005 when compared with the same period last year, the company said in a statement. «We have enough free capacity to increase further natural gas supplies upon demand from our clients,» Bulgargas executive director, Kiril Gegov, said through a spokeswoman. Bulgargas, which is Bulgaria’s only natural gas importer and owns a 2,645-km (1,644-mile) pipeline network, supplies Turkey, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) with Russian natural gas. It has a total transit capacity of 18.7 billion cubic meters. Bulgargas posted a pre-tax profit of 82 million levs ($51.83 million) for the first half of the year, an increase of 28 million levs over the same period in 2004.