Nabucco natural gas consortium halts talks with France’s Total

ANKARA (Reuters) – The consortium behind a project to supply Caspian natural gas to Europe, seeking a sixth partner, has suspended talks with French energy giant Total due to a disagreement, a Turkish energy official said. The Austrian-led consortium has now begun talks with another potential partner in the $6 billion Nabucco pipeline project, the senior official said, without naming the company involved. The Nabucco project, which has backing from the European Union and the United States, aims to provide Caspian gas to Europe bypassing Russia, which has twice shut supplies in the past year due to pricing disputes with transit states. The consortium plans to send out invitations next month for bids for engineering work on the pipeline, with a mid-April deadline, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The engineering work could start in June. «We plan to complete this process within 18 to 20 months,» the official told Reuters. Construction of the 3,300-kilometer pipeline is slated for 2008 and its launch for 2011. The owners of Nabucco are Austria’s OMV, Hungary’s MOL, Turkey’s Botas, Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz and Romania’s Transgaz. Last October, Bulgargaz said the five partners were in talks about the sale of a stake with four European energy majors – Total, Gaz de France, Germany’s E.ON and RWE. Polish and Ukrainian companies have also expressed interest. «We had started talks with Total… but due to a disagreement talks have been suspended. Now talks are under way with the second company on the list,» the Turkish official said. He gave no further details. Total officials in Paris were not immediately available to comment.