KIEV, Ukraine, April 18 (UPI) -- Italian energy company Eni said it was looking for new ways to supply natural gas to a Ukrainian economy struggling to break free of Russia's grip.
Eni Chief Executive Officer Paolo Scaroni met in Kiev with Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan to discuss increasing the availability of natural gas in the country.
The Italian company said Thursday both sides agreed that shale natural gas exploration and conventional gas reserves may provide a layer of protection to Ukraine's energy sector.
Ukraine is one of the Eastern European countries thought to be rich in shale natural gas reserves, though exploration programs are in their infancy.
German energy company RWE said Tuesday as much as 353 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year would flow from Poland to Ukraine under the terms of a contract signed in 2012.
Ukraine hosts the bulk of the Russian natural gas supplies headed to European consumers. The Kremlin warned European energy security may be at risk because Ukraine hasn't been able to settle a multibillion dollar gas bill.
Russian energy company Gazprom said it may transfer Ukraine's contract to a pre-payment mechanism, but would wait to see how the European community reacted to an energy security letter sent to regional leaders last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin.