ANKARA Gas from Iraq's Kurdish region would allow the Nabucco gas pipeline project to move gas to Europe by 2014, an official at Turkish state pipeline operator Botas, which is also a Nabucco shareholder, said on Sunday.
"The Iraqi region has important reserves, and gas produced there is crucial in realizing the Nabucco project," a Botas official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"At the very least, it will allow for the procurement of the minimum amount of gas necessary for Nabucco to begin operating from 2014."
Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI) and Hungary's MOL MOLB.BU, stakeholders in Nabucco, bought into a project to pump gas from Iraq's Kurdistan region to Turkey and on to Europe on Sunday.
Around 1.5 billion cubic feet per day (cfd) would be available from the project for Nabucco, enough to supply the first phase.
Until now, Nabucco had no committed gas sources, which has delayed the planned start date for the project. The pipeline has the political support of the European Union and the United States, which see it as a means to reduce Europe's energy reliance on Russia.
Europe receives about a quarter of its natural gas supply from Russia.
Turkey, which has little gas or oil reserves of its own, hopes to become a key link between the energy-rich East and markets in the West. It also sees Nabucco as a way to anchor itself in Europe as it negotiates membership with the EU, which has sometimes questioned whether poor, Muslim Turkey belongs.
Botas has sought to retain 15 percent of the pipeline's gas, a demand so far refused by Nabucco's partners. But gas from Iraq's Kurdistan region could help meet Turkish needs and remove that obstacle to Nabucco.
"Turkey has always wanted Ankara to become a natural-gas hub, and this project that aims to transport gas from Iraq through Turkey to Europe supports that understanding," the Botas official said.
"Turkey still wants to collect Azeri, Iranian, Iraqi and Arab gas in Ankara to send on to Europe," he said.
Energy ties could also improve often-strained relations between Turkey and the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq. Turkey's military has launched strikes there to root out members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish-Kurdish separatist group based in the region's mountains.
(Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley, editing by Will Waterman)