FRANKFURT Feb 25 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)