MOSCOW, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Russia is planning to double its intake of natural gas from Azerbaijan in a potential challenge to European efforts to engage the Eurasian nation in the independent Nabucco gas pipeline network.
The Russian Novosti news agency quoted senior Azerbaijan official Rovnag
Abdullayev as saying supplies to Russia would double to 35.3 billion cubic feet from 2010. It was unclear if a new deal had been signed in addition to contracts initialed in October.
Abdullaev, president of Azerbaijan's state oil and gas company Socar, said: "We have held negotiations. Azerbaijan has a potential to increase gas supplies, we will supply Russia with 1 billion cubic meters (35.3 billion cubic feet) of gas in 2010."
Azerbaijan and Russia signed contracts Oct. 14 for the supply of 17.65 billion cubic feet of Azerbaijan natural gas to Russia, with the option to increase the volume.
The prospect of double the contracted quantity of natural gas ending up in Russia, along with Azeri contracts to supply gas to Iran, further whittles down supplies that may be available if and when the Nabucco pipeline to Europe goes on stream.
The $11.3 billion Nabucco gas pipeline is intended to pool gas supplies from Central Asian and Middle Eastern supplies for transmission to Europe through Turkey. The pipeline is backed by the West as an alternative to European dependence on Russian gas.
However, while Nabucco is still in a planning stage, China has opened a 1,138-mile pipeline to Turkmenistan and begun taking delivery of gas from that country, originally a potential participant in the Nabucco project.
The pipeline has the capacity to pump about 1.6 trillion cubic feet of gas and has made China one of the largest consumers of gas from Central Asia.
The China-Turkmenistan pipeline also signals a geopolitical shift in the region because, until recently, Turkmenistan supplied most of its gas to Russia.
The Nabucco pipeline project likewise aims to wean suppliers from Russia and to bypass Russian territory, passing through Turkey instead.
Europe buys nearly one-quarter of its gas from Russia and has watched with growing concern as Russian political quarrels with former Soviet republics have led to disruption of gas supplies.
Nabucco would utilize gas supplies from Central Asia as well as the Middle East, except Iran, which is emerging as a major consumer of Azerbaijan gas.
Earlier in December, Azerbaijan signed an agreement with Iran to deliver natural gas to the northern Iranian provinces through an existing 916-mile Kazi-Magomed-Astara gas pipeline. The deal involves export of 17.6 billion cubic feet a year of gas -- a fraction of the pipeline's capacity of 353 billion cubic feet per year.
Both sides have discussed installing new compression stations on the pipeline to increase its throughput capacity.
Mohammad Bagher Bahrami, the Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan, said his country plans to buy at least 175 billion cubic feet of Azeri gas in the future.
If implemented the deal will further reduce gas supplies that may be available for the planned Nabucco pipeline.