VIENNA May 24 (Reuters) - Central Europe's second largest gas storage facility in the Austrian town of Haidach near Salzburg started officially operating on Thursday, German-Russian gas trader Wingas BASF.DE said.
Gas storage at the Haidach underground facility is expected to reach its full first-phase capacity of 1.2 billion cubic metres in October, and this would be doubled once the second phase was completed by April 2011, a Wingas spokesman said by telephone.
Haidach is jointly owned by Wingas, Russia's Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and Austrian energy firm Rohoel-Aufsuchungs AG (RAG) -- in which Austria's EVN (EVNV.VI) is the biggest shareholder and which also operates the facility.
Wingas, Europe's number three gas storage operator, is jointly operated by oil and gas firm Wintershall, a unit of German chemical's group BASF BASF.DE, and Gazprom.
Wingas said it would use the storage facility to structure and enhance supply security in southern Germany.
Austria is a key transit country between gas suppliers in eastern and western Europe.
The total investment for the storage facility was 250 million euros ($336 million), said Wingas.
Austria's Economy Minister Martin Bartenstein said the Haidach facility would also help secure Austria's supplies.
"Since the escalation of the gas dispute between Russia and the Ukraine at the start of 2006 at the latest we have realised the importance of reserves and the storage capacity," Bartenstein said in a statement.