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Decision on Russia’s access to OPAL gas pipeline delayed until late October — minister

September 16, 2014, 16:01 UTC+3
Under the rules of the Third Energy Package, Gazprom is required to reserve up to 50% of the OPAL gas pipeline’s capacities for gas transportation by independent gas suppliers
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© EPA/Hendrik Schmidt

MOSCOW, September 16./ITAR-TASS/. The EU has postponed until late October a decision on providing full access for Gazprom to the OPAL gas pipeline, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday.

“At a forthcoming tri-partite meeting, we’ll also discuss the OPAL issue. We were told that a decision would be passed on September 15 but the deadline was postponed and we were surprised that this deadline was delayed until late October,” Novak said.

OPAL is part of the European energy system and could boost Russian natural gas supplies in the autumn and winter period, the energy minister said.

The European Commission earlier postponed a decision on Russia’s full access to the OPAL gas pipeline until mid-September.

“The European Commission has agreed with Bundesnetzagentur [the German Federal Grid Agency] to extend the deadline for the decision on the OPAL. The reason for the extension is that some technical aspects need further consideration,” the EC spokesman said at the time.

Gazprom turned to the European Commission in late 2013 with a request to exclude the OPAL gas pipeline from the rules of the Third Energy Package, which requires the separation of gas production, transportation and sale to prevent gas suppliers from dominating the infrastructure.

Under the rules of the Third Energy Package, Gazprom is required to reserve up to 50% of the OPAL gas pipeline’s capacities for gas transportation by independent gas suppliers.

The OPAL gas pipeline, which has an annual capacity of 36 billion cubic meters and runs along Germany’s eastern border, provides a link from Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipe running under the Baltic Sea to Europe’s existing gas transport networks.

The German Economy Ministry insists on providing full access for Gazprom to the OPAL pipeline over the threat of interruptions in Russia’s natural gas transit via Ukraine.

A new delay in the decision on the OPAL gas pipeline can be explained by upcoming gas talks between Russia and Ukraine with the EU’s mediation, the date for which has not yet been set, a European diplomatic source said on Monday.

“In this way, the European Commission is trying to secure acceptable positions for Kiev for talks with Gazprom based on the Russian gas monopoly’s interest in keeping operational the transit route via Ukraine,” the European diplomat said.

A failure of gas talks between Russia, Ukraine and the EU may considerably increase the risks of the Ukrainian transit contraction or interruption and prompt the European Commission to allow Gazprom to fully fill the OPAL gas pipeline but “only for a limited period,” the EU diplomatic source said.

This temporary permission may be issued for a term of six months to meet Europe’s basic requirements for natural gas during the winter period, thus easing dependence on the Ukrainian transit but in spring the European Commission will be able to bring the gas pipe back under the regulations of the Third Energy Package, the diplomat said.

Under the norms of Europe’s Third Energy Package, a part of the OPAL gas pipeline capacities must be reserved for independent suppliers. In practice, however, this reservation only limits Russian natural gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which is currently the most reliable transit route to Europe amid the existing risks of gas supplies across Ukraine.

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