ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish-Italian consortium set to build an oil pipeline across Turkey said yesterday it was in talks with more than 20 energy companies to fill the pipeline after Russia said it may pull out of the project. The pipeline, due to link Samsun on the Black Sea with the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, is intended to ease heavy tanker congestion in Turkey’s Bosporus and Dardanelles, now the sole outlet for Russian oil exports to the Mediterranean. It is expected to pump up to 70 million tons of oil a year from the former Soviet Union, including Caspian Sea states such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. «This pipeline will be competitive if the volume we transport is in excess of a million barrels per day,» Paulo Scaroni, chief executive of Italy’s ENI, told a news conference. Eni and Turkey’s Calik Enerji jointly own the venture. Earlier this week, Turkish officials said Moscow had told Ankara it may not take part in the scheme and hopes to find cheaper routes for its westward-bound crude exports. Calik said it hoped to finalize partnerships with oil companies by the end of the year. The partners declined to name any of the companies they are talking to but said they were in contact with Japanese financiers about the project, which is expected to cost about $1.5 billion (1.2 billion euros). They said they were ready to begin construction with their own capital. Building is due to begin next year and to be completed by 2009. The amount of oil ferried through the Bosporus and Dardanelles is expected to reach 200 million tons annually by 2013, exacerbating tanker delays and increasing the risk of environmental damage in a heavily populated area of Turkey. Winter conditions can already delay transport by up to 25 days, said Ahmet Calik, head of Calik Holding. «The Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline is the most appropriate and most effective alternative to carry Kazakh, Caspian and Russian oil to the Mediterranean,» said Calik. The 550-kilometer pipeline is expected to transport 1 million barrels per day, but has the capacity to carry 1.5 million barrels over 24 hours.