* Commission cites technical reasons, gives no date
* Russian ministry says decision delayed to mid-September
* Latest in a series of delays
(Adds Russian Energy Ministry statement)
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, a move that Russia said could undermine the security of
energy supplies to 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 on Opal,
which provides a link between Russia's Nord Stream pipeline in
northeastern Germany to the Czech Republic.
Citing technical reasons, Commission spokeswoman Sabine
Berger said on Wednesday that the Commission had agreed with
German regulator (BNetzA) to prolong the deadline for a decision
"It is difficult to specify the exact timing of the
decision," she added in an emailed statement.
The Russian Energy Ministry said, however, that the decision
on Opal had been extended till mid-September, adding that it was
"astonished" by the delay and that it would have a negative
impact on Europe.
"Constraints and barriers on the part of the EU authorities,
which hinder the usage of already built pipelines with Russian
participation or the construction of new ones, hit not only
investors in European and particularly German energy
infrastructure ... but also create serious risks for European
consumers," the ministry said in a statement.
Introduced in 2011, Nord Stream pumps gas from Russia via
the Baltic Sea into Germany, bypassing transit state Ukraine.
Its capacity is 55 billion cubic metres a year, but Gazprom,
which heads the consortium of shareholders, has been pumping
only half that.
Opal has a capacity of 36 bcm but also has 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 at odds 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)