FRANKFURT Feb 25 (Reuters) - Germany's energy regulator on Wednesday exempted from regulation the OPAL pipeline project which would transport Russian gas arriving via the Baltic Sea, but threw out a similar request by NEL, another project.
The move signifies partial support for Nord Stream, the planned pipeline link to bring Siberian gas to Europe from 2011 under the Baltic Sea, because its success will hinge on whether the new volumes can be cheaply shipped onshore.
Wintershall BASF.DE, BASF's oil & gas unit, and utility E.ON (EONGn.DE) had applied for exemptions for the two planned inland links, arguing potential investors must be free from tariff checks and the need to give unhindered access to third parties because the pipelines would be built for transit.
They double as partners in a consortium with Russia's Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and Dutch Gasunie that will build and operate the 7.4 billion euros ($9.51 billion) Nord Stream pipe. They will benefit from marketing opportunities for the eventual 55 billion cubic metres of gas volumes due to arrive every year.
"With its ruling today, the Bundesnetzagentur (regulator) mostly exempts OPAL from network access and transit fees regulation for 22 years after its launch," the Bonn-based authority said in a statement.
"For NEL, the applications were rejected," it added.
OPAL is designed to transport gas via Germany to the Czech Republic, making it a genuine transit link, while NEL is due to end in Rehden, north Germany, meaning it is a purely national facility, said Bundesnetzagentur president Matthias Kurth.
E.ON unit Ruhrgas will own 20 percent and Wintershall unit Wingas 80 percent of OPAL and for NEL, the E.ON share is 25 and for Wingas 75 percent.
Kurth also stressed that only those transports on OPAL would be freed of regulation that were identifiable as shipments destined for the Czech Republic and beyond.
But he would check on shipments on OPAL inside Germany and on those arriving from the Czech Republic in the other direction, he said.
Kurth, who added that the decision would be sent to Brussels for final agreement by the European Commission, said the decision was "a clear signal in favour of linking up the Baltic Sea pipeline onshore and making a significant contribution to Europe's (gas) supply security."
The Nord Stream team has driven the need for the link harder since the recent Russia-Ukraine gas transit row underscored the need for Europe to become independent of that land-based route.
But the Nord Stream gas must have the two onward transport links in place so that it can be brought to the market.
(Reporting by Vera Eckert; Editing by Keiron Henderson)