Turkey has permitted Russia's gas giant Gazprom to carry out offshore prospecting under the South Stream pipeline project, designed to carry gas to Europe under the Black Sea, Pavel Oderov, head of Gazprom's external economic activities department, said on Friday.
"We will start the offshore prospecting from May," Oderov said.
The offshore prospecting will be part of the procedure for getting Turkey's permission to build the pipeline, in which Germany's Wintershall, a unit of BASF, Italy's Eni and France's EdF will take part, Oderov said.
Gazprom is working on the project's technical and economic assessment and intends to announce the sum of investment as well as the final pipeline route in the summer.
Turkey, a major player in the rival, European Union-sponsored $10.8 billion Nabucco project to deliver gas from Turkmenistan to Europe, has been in talks with Russia over prices for gas it buys for domestic consumption and is dragging its feet on the South Stream project.
Another threat to the project came from the new EU third energy package which orders the separation of gas sales and transportation businesses and requires the provision of access for third parties to gas transportation facilities.
Gazprom is considering three routes for the project - through Bulgaria to Serbia, Hungary and Austria, through Bulgaria to Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria and Italy, through Bulgaria, Greece to the south of Italy.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said that if Turkey refused permission, Russia could supply liquefied natural gas from the Russian Black Sea coast to the region.
"Under the basic option, we plan to supply gas from the pipeline ... We will also consider separating capacities to liquefy and re-gasify gas on the Black Sea," he said.
Russia plans to launch the $21.5 billion pipeline, which will transport up to 63 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe, in 2015 to diversify its gas supplies. The underwater portion of the pipeline will go through Turkey's territorial waters.
MOSCOW, April 8 (RIA Novosti)