* TAP hopes for interministerial accord, possibly next month
* Project proposes one of two possible routes for Azeri gas
* Scheme still lacks Italian corporate partner
By Barbara Lewis and Karolina Tagaris
BRUSSELS/ATHENS, Aug 8 (Reuters) - The Greek and Italian governments have agreed to back the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which could improve the project’s chances of winning a long contest to become the means of reducing Europe’s reliance on Russia by bringing in Azeri gas.
Greek Deputy Energy Minister Makis Papageorgiou and his Italian counterpart reached a “close cooperation agreement” to jointly support the pipeline that would run through their countries, the Greek ministry said in a statement.
Greece and Italy were in talks with the government of Albania, which is also part of the route, over the pipeline.
TAP is one of two potential pipelines short-listed by the Azeri Shah Deniz 2 gas consortium, led by BP and Statoil , to carry 16 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year to Turkey and the European Union.
“Athens and Rome have decided to back the project after Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz 2 consortium chose TAP to transport gas to western Europe. Nabucco West remains an alternative route through the Balkans,” a spokesman for the Italian Foreign ministry said.
TAP would transport the gas from the western Turkish border across the Mediterranean and into Italy, while rival Nabucco West would pump the gas through southeastern Europe into Austria.
TAP was previously criticised for its lack of government support, something Nabucco West already has from all countries it would cross. Analysts say TAP also still lacks an Italian corporate partner.
Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR said in June it aimed to decide the winner by the end of this year.
TAP welcomed the agreement.
“This confirms the progress we have been making in discussions with the Italian and Greek authorities,” TAP External Affairs Director Michael Hoffmann said on Wednesday, adding he hoped to sign an agreement wi t h the relevant governments in September.
The European Commission has said it does not favour any project or route over another as long as it carries Azeri gas, which would diversify supplies and reduce EU dependence on Russia.
Russia now provides around a quarter of the bloc’s overall gas needs, and Azeri fields are the most developed new non-Russian sources of natural gas in Central Asia.
TAP, whose partners are Statoil, Swiss EGL and Germany’s E.ON Ruhrgas, was not immediately available to comment.
BP operates the Shah Deniz 2 gas field, which i s estimated to hold 1.2 trillion cubic metres of gas.
BP holds a 25.5 percent stake, as does Statoil. The rest is divided between SOCAR, Russia’s LUKOIL, Total SA, the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) and Iranian state-owned NICO.
Nabucco’s six shareholders are Austria’s OMV AG, Germany’s RWE AG, Hungary’s MOL through its gas pipeline operator FGSZ, Turkey’s Botas, BEH of Bulgaria and Romania’s Transgaz.