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Russian shareholder pledges equal access to Balkan oil pipeline

MOSCOW, April 17 (RIA Novosti) - Oil companies will enjoy equal access to the pipeline that will pump Russian oil via the Balkan countries further on to global markets, a Russian joint venture board member said Tuesday.

The 280-kilometer (175-mile) Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline will carry Russian oil via the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas and Greece's Alexandroupolis on the Aegean further to Europe, the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific region, and could cost up to 1 billion euros.

"There will be no fixed quotas, but equal access [to the pipeline] offered," said Nikolai Seryogin from the Burgas-Alexandroupolis Pipeline Consortium, which comprises state-controlled Rosneft, pipeline monopoly Transneft and oil company Gazprom Neft representing the Russian side in the project.

He specified that the pipeline would cross the territory of the European Union, whose laws guaranteed free access to transport facilities.

Seryogin, who also heads the strategy and foreign project department at Gazprom Neft, an oil-producing asset of energy giant Gazprom, ruled out any capacity shortage because it would be an alternative pipeline bypassing the Bosporus Strait, which is frequently crowded with tankers.

He said the congested Turkish straits inflicted losses of $700-750 million annually on oil companies, and that the idle periods in wintertime and pertinent fines raised the cost for a metric ton of oil (7.33 bbl) by $13-14.

"If the pipeline, with a capacity of 35 million tons [257.25 million bbl], is completely loaded, there would be no delays in transportation through the Bosporus and Dardanelles," he said.

Under an interstate deal signed by Russia, Greece and Bulgaria March 15, the pipeline's capacity could eventually be increased to 50 million metric tons (367.5 million bbl).

Seryogin said he hoped the International Project Company, the project owner in which the Russian consortium holds 51% and the remaining stake is shared by Greece and Bulgaria, would choose Transneft as project operator.

Seryogin said such major companies as the Russian-British joint venture TNK-BP, the U.S. giant Chevron and Kazakhstan's KazMunayGas were interested in joining the project, which he said was open to other shareholders on market terms.

He said oil could be transported from Alexandroupolis to America if European markets happened to be saturated, causing prices to change. Oil could be transported from the port by tankers with deadweight of 300,000 tons, against those crossing the Bosporus and Dardanelles, which have half that capacity.

Talks on the project had dragged on for 14 years over contentious financial issues, ownership and oil contributions, until receiving a boost last year.

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