ECONOMY

Pipeline closer to signature

Senior Greek, Bulgarian and Russian officials are scheduled to meet in the Bulgarian port city of Burgas on February 7 to finalize a long-awaited agreement on the construction of an oil pipeline linking the Black Sea port with Alexandroupolis on the Aegean coast. The meeting, announced by Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas yesterday, will prepare the documents for signature by the three countries’ respective ministers. The development is the result of intensive deliberations over the last two weeks or so between Russia and Bulgaria concerning the ownership status of the installations at Burgas and the distribution of shares in the project. Moscow had been pressing for the entry into the construction consortium of Russian oil companies active in Kazakhstan, where the oil will originate. The serious differences that had arisen on this issue prevented the scheduled signing of the agreement before the end of 2006. Now, Greece is aiming for the detailed document to be signed in Athens by early March at the latest. The document will provide the framework for the charter of the international consortium which the companies participating in the construction of the pipeline will form, and for the transit agreements that the consortium will sign with Bulgaria and Greece. The agreement budgets the total cost of the project at -1 billion. The pipeline will have a capacity of 35 million tons annually, and the possibility of being extended to 50 million tons. The distribution of the shares in the consortium will be as follows: Russian energy giants Rosneft, Tarsneft and Gazprom will jointly hold 51 percent; Bulgarian companies will hold a 24.5 percent stake; Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum and Thraki SA (a consortium of the Latsis and Kopelouzos groups) 23.5 percent; and the Greek government 1 percent. The agreement also stipulates that the Greek private participants will not be able to sell their shares without the prior approval of the government. Separately, Italy’s Economic Development Minister Pierluigi Bersani is expected in Athens today for talks on the proposed extension to his country of a gas pipeline that will start carrying Caspian natural gas from Turkey to Greece.