(Recasts lead, adds detail, CEO comments)
ROME, March 20 The future of the South Stream
pipeline project to carry Russian gas to Europe has been put in
question by the escalating dispute over Ukraine, the chief
executive of Italian oil major Eni said on Thursday.
The future of the pipeline is "somewhat gloomy", Paolo
Scaroni said during a parliamentary hearing in Rome.
The massive South Stream project, which would be able to
supply over 60 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to Europe, is
seen as crucial for Russia's ambitions to cement its position as
Europe's dominant gas supplier.
But Russia's seizure of the Crimea region from Ukraine has
heightened tension between Moscow and the West, prompting the
European Union recently to say it planned to delay talks over
The 2,400 km (1,500-mile) pipeline, led by Russia's Gazprom
, is expected to be fully operational by 2018 at an
estimated cost of around 17 billion euros ($23.4 billion).
Besides Gazprom and Eni the other shareholders in the
project are France's EDF and Germany's Wintershall.
Scaroni said the Ukraine crisis could threaten the complex
permitting process for the pipeline which will bypass Ukraine,
running through the Black Sea and a number of European states.
"It will put into question the many authorisations that
European countries must give to complete the project," Scaroni
Russia has long sought to cut its reliance on pipelines
crossing Ukraine, the route for roughly half of its gas exports
Earlier this month Gazprom said Italy's Saipem had
secured deals worth 2 billion euros to build the first stage of
the underwater pipeline.
($1 = 0.7255 Euros)
(Reporting by Alberto Sisto, writing by Stephen Jewkes, editing
by David Evans)