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Balkan pipeline deal to be signed by end of 2006

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An intergovernmental agreement to build an oil pipeline in the Balkans to bypass some of the world's busiest shipping lanes may be signed by the end of the year, a senior Russian energy official said Wednesday.
MOSCOW, August 30 (RIA Novosti) - An intergovernmental agreement to build an oil pipeline in the Balkans to bypass some of the world's busiest shipping lanes may be signed by the end of the year, a senior Russian energy official said Wednesday.

The Russian, Bulgarian and Greek governments signed a memorandum on the construction of a pipeline stretching 280 kilometers (175 miles) from the Bulgarian port of Burgas on the Black Sea to Greece's Alexandroupolis on the Aegean in April 2005.

The project, which is expected to cost at least $800 million, will allow Russia to export oil through the Black Sea, bypassing the busy Bosporus Strait in Turkey. Initial throughput capacity will be 35 million metric tons (255 million bbl), before rising to 50 million metric tons (370 million bbl).

Andrei Dementyev, Russia's deputy energy minister, agreed with the general secretary of Greece's Development Ministry, Nikolaos Stephanou, that the document needs to be prepared quickly, and said the companies initiating the project will discuss the project's technical implementation once it is signed.

"We are considering the project primarily from the viewpoint of its transportation efficiency, and there is no doubting its attraction to investors or its capacity," Dementyev said.

The Kremlin said Wednesday Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a working visit September 4 to Athens to discuss energy cooperation, and in particular the construction of the pipeline, with Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis and Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov.

An Energy Ministry source said Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom, and Russian-British oil venture TNK-BP signed a deal in June to establish a company to build the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline.

Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft, which is expected to become another participant in the company on parity terms, is studying the documents.

Russian oil company Transneft has expressed an interest in operating the future oil pipeline.

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