* Nabucco's main rival is TAP project route to Italy
* NABUCCO, TAP want to team up with TANAP
* TAP expects clarity by June 2012 (Adds further comment from OMV in paras 4, 5)
By Michael Shields and Henning Gloystein
VIENNA/LONDON, Feb 22 Austria's energy company OMV AG expects the consortium in charge of the Shah Deniz II gas field in Azerbaijan to decide definitively on a pipeline partner by mid-2013 to transport its gas to Europe, OMV's Chief Executive said on Wednesday.
BP operates the Shah Deniz II gas field, containing some 1.2 trillion cubic metres of gas, and holds a 25.5 percent stake, as does Statoil, with the rest divided between SOCAR, LUKOIL, NICO, Total and TPAO.
"It appears the pipeline decision will be made in the middle of 2013," Gerhard Roiss told a news conference in Vienna.
But Roiss added that the timing of a decision was up to Shah Deniz, and not the pipeline projects competing to transport its gas.
"I have always said we don't determine the timing of Nabucco. That is determined by the ones with the gas ... and that is what the consortium has informed us, that they intend to decide definitely by mid-2013."
The 4,000 km Nabucco pipeline project would transport central Asian gas through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary into Austria and western Europe.
Earlier this week, the Shah Deniz II gas field consortium selected the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project for the route that would make landfall in Italy, saying it would prefer TAP as its partner over the rival ITGI pipeline project, should it decide to send the gas through Turkey to Italy.
But BP said it was still considering sending the gas to central Europe instead of to Italy, and that the Nabucco pipeline project was still in the running for that option.
Sources at TAP told Reuters that they expected the Shah Deniz II consortium to have made up its mind over the route of its gas to Europe and the preferred pipeline project by June this year, and that this would lead to a binding deal between the partners, known as a final investment decision (FID), by mid 2013.
Nabucco would have an annual transport capacity of 31 billion cubic metres (bcm). It was estimated to cost of 7.9 billion euros ($10.4 billion) but sources say that could rise as high as 12 billion to 15 billion.
Critics argue that is too expensive and that there is not enough non-Russian gas available to fill such a big pipeline.
RACE TO TEAM UP WITH TANAP
OMV's Roiss said that he was open to the idea of combining Nabucco with other projects like TANAP, which plans to transport Azeri gas through Turkey to its western border with the rest of Europe.
Such a move would significantly reduce Nabucco's costs.
Nabucco's main shareholders are OMV, German utility RWE , Hungary's MOL, Romania's Transgaz , Bulgaria's Bulgargaz and Turkey's Botas.
RWE has said it will keep all its gas pipeline options open.
TAP has also said it would welcome a deal with TANAP to transport the Azeri gas to the Turkish-Greek border, from where TAP would send it to Italy.
TAP - whose main partners are Statoil, Swiss EGL and Germany's E.ON Ruhrgas - would run 800 km from Komotini in Greece near the border with Turkey, through Greece and Albania, to end near San Foca, Italy.
The project so far has no intergovernmental agreement between the three countries it would pass through but was included in an agreement signed in 2009 between Italy and Albania.
Its critics say that another weakness is its lack of an Italian partner, without which they say it will be difficult to get government permission for the project to make landfall in Italy.
TAP said that it was working in both Italy and Greece to find corporate and government partners.
Sources said that a preferred option would be for Greek energy company DEPA, so far a partner in the ITGI project, to take a 10 to 15 percent stake in TAP, and for an Italian energy company also to become a partner. (Additional reporting by Angelika Gruber in Vienna, editing by William Hardy)