* Commission cites technical reasons, gives no date
* Russian ministry says decision delayed to mid-September
* Latest in a series of delays
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, July 16 The European Commission said
it had delayed indefinitely a decision on whether to allow
Russia greater access to the Opal gas pipeline in northeastern
Germany, even though its approval would improve the security of
gas supply to Central Europe.
Russian gas giant Gazprom has limited access to
the pipeline because of an EU law that seeks to prevent energy
suppliers from dominating infrastructure.
But no-one else has taken up the spare capacity, and western
analysts as well as Russian officials say giving Russia more
access could play a major role in improving EU energy security
because it connects to Russia's Nord Stream pipeline.
Citing technical reasons, Commission spokeswoman Sabine
Berger said on Wednesday the Commission had agreed with German
regulator (BNetzA) to prolong the deadline for a decision on
"It is difficult to specify the exact timing of the
decision," she added in an emailed statement.
The Russian Energy Ministry said in a separate statement,
however, that the decision on Opal had been extended till
Introduced in 2011, Nord Stream pumps gas from Russia via
the Baltic Sea into Germany, bypassing traditional transit state
Nord Stream's capacity is 55 billion cubic metres a year,
but Gazprom, which heads the consortium of shareholders, has
been pumping only half that.
Opal provides a link from Nord Stream where it makes
landfall in northeastern Germany to the Czech Republic. It has a
capacity of 36 bcm but has also been operating at half that for
the past three years.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in January the
Commission had agreed to allow Russia 100 percent access to
Opal, but the Commission subsequently said a decision had been
delayed, again citing the need for technical clarifications.
NORTH AND SOUTH
Gazprom, which has been pressuring the European Commission
to lift the restrictions, is also locked in conflict with the EU
authorities over its even bigger pipeline project, South Stream.
South Stream would carry gas from Russia across the Black
Sea to Bulgaria and other EU states. Like Nord Stream, it
The Commission says South Stream breaks various pieces of EU
law, including rules on third-party access and intergovernmental
Following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region,
the Commission suspended talks aimed at bringing South Stream
into line with EU legislation.
Dominique Ristori, head of the Commission's energy
department, said this week the suspension remained firmly in
"In the present context our position is very clear. South
Stream has no place when we are still in such difficulties with
Russia," he told a Brussels meeting on Tuesday.
Talks could resume only on the basis of "clear principles
and in particular one principle is crystal clear: the full
implementation of EU legislation", he said.
Russia is locked in conflict with the European Union and
Ukraine over Ukraine's decision to sign a partnership agreement
with the European Union and over Moscow's annexation of Crimea.
The dispute has been aggravated by a row between Ukraine and
Russia over how much Ukraine pays for its gas, which has led
Russia to cut off gas supplies.
Because Ukraine is a transit state for around half of the
gas the EU receives from Russia, there is a risk of knock-on
effects for EU nations if the cut-off is prolonged.
The European Commission has brokered talks between Kiev and
Moscow, but the last round collapsed without a deal. EU
diplomats said this week they did not expect new tripartite
talks before the end of August.
(additional reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt and Katya
Golubkova, Denis Pinchuk in Moscow; editing by Jane Baird)