UPDATE 1-Latvia gas utility owners approve assets spin-off

* Latvijas Gaze to be split in two parts

* New company to own gas storage, transportation

* Gas transportation tariffs seen rising-CEO

* Latvia to liberalize gas market from April 2017 (Adds Gazprom comments, CEO quotes, details)

By Gederts Gelzis

RIGA, Sept 2 (Reuters) - The owners of Latvia’s gas utility Latvijas Gaze approved on Friday a spin-off of its gas transportation and storage assets, ahead of market liberalization next year, the company said at a shareholders’ meeting.

Latvijas Gaze, 34 percent owned by Russia’s Gazprom , imports and sells pipeline gas from Russia and operates the region’s only underground gas storage.

Anton Belevitin, Gazprom’s representative at the meeting, said the Russian supplier voted in favour, but it was “forced” to do so because of legal requirements.

Latvia’s parliament amended the energy law in February, requiring the company to split, as EU rules do not allow gas suppliers and traders to control pipelines, and to open the gas market to competition from April 2017.

Latvijas Gaze’s other shareholders include EU’s infrastructure fund Marguerite with a 28 percent stake, Germany’s Uniper with 18 percent, and Latvian gas trader Itera Latvia with 16 percent.

Gazprom, Uniper and Itera would most likely be required to dispose their shares in the new company, Zane Kotane, Latvijas Gaze board member, said on Aug. 17.

Aigars Kalvitis, Latvijas Gaze’s chief executive and the country’s former prime minister, told Reuters he did not see the reorganisation posing a risk to gas supplies from Russia.

“Latvijas Gaze has a long-term supply agreement (with Gazprom) and we don’t see such risks,” Kalvitis said, adding that the agreement runs until 2030.

Belevitin declined to comment on Gazprom’s plans after liberalization, saying he was not authorized to speak about it.

While gas prices for industrial users will be liberalized from April next year, households could buy gas under regulated prices until April 2019.

Gas companies from neighbouring Baltic states, Lithuania and Estonia, might be interested in selling gas in Latvia, when the market is open, Kotane has said.

Latvia’s power producer Latvenergo has sought to import gas from neighbouring Lithuania, but plans were blocked by Latvijas Gaze.

Conexus Baltic Grid, a planned gas grid and storage company, is expected to start operations by around the end of this year, Kalvitis said.

Reorganisation would mean that gas transportation tariffs in Latvia will have to increase, because the new company will not be able to cover its costs with revenues from gas sales, he added.

Latvia consumed 1.3 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas last year, while total consumption of the three Baltic states stood at 4.3 bcm in 2015. (Writing by Nerijus Adomaitis, editing by William Hardy)