Pressure is growing on the Nabucco consortium to reveal its hand over its tender for Azeri gas. The winner, to be announced in April, will be master of Europe's Southern Gas Corridor, designed to bring gas from sources other than Russia.
Azerbaijan, a key potential supplier country for the Nabucco project, heaped pressure on the pipeline consortium to reveal its intentions and recognise its alleged weaknesses.
Elshad Nasirov, the country's top negotiator for a tender to access ten billion cubic metres (bcm) of Azeri gas from the Shah Deniz II field, said that two Nabucco competitors, namely the Turkey-Greece-Italy Interconnector (ITGI) and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), could "turn out to be more attractive".
"We are not going to pay for the empty capacity of Nabucco," said Nasirov in a much-noticed interview, published by the European Energy Review.
Nasirov was referring to the fact that Nabucco has a designed capacity of 31 bcm, while for the time being, no gas is available to fill the pipeline – except for the 10 bcm at Shah Deniz.
"We do not promise additional gas. Everything depends on the price," Nasirov said, adding that Azerbaijan would not put "all its eggs in one basket" and hinting that the 10 bcm could be sold to more than one bidder.
"We tell Nabucco: quote your tariff'," Nasirov said, adding that he was waiting for "a serious proposal from Nabucco" in order to compare it with other proposals. But he made plain that in his view, Nabucco was "still uncertain" without a second source of gas.
A similar message came on Wednesday (8 December) from Umberto Quadrino, CEO of Edison, the Italian energy company promoting ITGI.
"Nabucco doesn't justify investment for a pipeline with a capacity of 30 bcm," he said.
Oettinger to act as referee?
Quadrino was speaking at a European Parliament dinner hosted by Greek and Italian MEPs in the presence of EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger. There, he pleaded for "collaboration" between ITGI and Nabucco, saying that Oettinger could convince the Nabucco consortium to adopt a two-step approach to building the Southern Gas Corridor.
The first step would be taken by building ITGI, with Nabucco coming only at a later stage, when gas from new sources becomes available, he said.
Quadrino suggested that contact had already been established between ITGI and Nabucco to discuss such a scenario.
But a Nabucco spokesperson denied that any contact had been made. "I cannot talk for our shareholders but our project company," said Cristian Dolezal, speaking to EURACTIV from Vienna.
For Dolezal, the two-step approach promoted by the ITGI partners is incomprehensible to his company. Nabucco, he said, is the only project in the Southern Gas Corridor that provides a new highway from Turkey's eastern border right up to Austria.
"ITGI would lead to Brindisi, as far as I know," Dolezal said.
ITGI's promoters insisted that Brindisi would not be a dead-end for the pipeline and said they would be able to supply up to five bcm through an interconnector linking Greece and Bulgaria, which they said would be ready in two years' time.
Experts present at the Parliament dinner told EURACTIV that only Nabucco actually provided for new pipes to be laid across Turkey, instead of using the existing network. In their opinion, this puts the 'Goliath' project at an advantage.