ISTANBUL, Turkey, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Northern Iraq has enough natural gas to fill the European Union-backed Nabucco pipeline project, a Kurdish official said.
Ashti Hawrami, the natural resources minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq said at an energy conference in Istanbul that Iraq's oil and gas fields contain 100 trillion to 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
"This is more than adequate for internal use, the domestic supply of Turkey as well as to satisfy the requirements of Nabucco," Hawrami was quoted as saying by Turkish English-language newspaper Today's Zaman. "We are confident, if we can prove the full 200 trillion cubic feet, we can supply the entire needs of Nabucco."
Launched to make Europe less dependent on Russian energy imports, Nabucco is designed to transport 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year from Caspian and Middle Eastern sources to Europe. Consortium officials are optimistic that Nabucco will be fed by gas from Azerbaijan and Iraq so that the pipeline can come into operation in 2015.
However, Nabucco, backed by companies from six countries, has had trouble securing gas deliveries.
While Iraq's potential to become a key supplier is huge, the unstable security and differences between the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq and Baghdad have slowed down progress. Both parties are rowing over shares of the profit and political power and Baghdad has said it won't recognize energy export deals struck by the KRG. Iraq's Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani was invited to the conference but didn't attend.
U.S. officials said they hope that Iraq soon clears the way for energy to be exported to Europe.
"We believe it is important and Turkey believes it is important that the Kurdish gas will ultimately be able to go north" and feed Nabucco, Richard Morningstar, the U.S. envoy for Eurasian energy, was quoted as saying at the same conference by Today's Zaman.
Iran has also been named as a potential supplier but the Nabucco consortium but the political conflicts with Tehran make such a link unlikely.
Nabucco last month said it was in talks with the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank for around $6 billion in loans -- much-needed cash as Russia is pushing hard for its rival pipeline South Stream.
Intended to move 2.2 trillion cubic feet of gas per year from Russia under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and then on to Western Europe, South Stream has already secured Central Asian gas and could be supplied with Russian sources as well.
The Russian aim is to go around Ukraine, which transports 80 percent of the Russian natural gas bound for Europe but has in the past temporarily halted supplies to Europe due to price rows with Moscow.
Observers have warned there is demand and supply for only one of the two pipelines.