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Christian Lowe
Washington Post

Russia assured France and Germany on Saturday it was a reliable energy supplier to European consumers and said Gazprom was considering exporting gas from its Shtokman field toward Europe.

Most of the gas the giant Russian monopoly wants to pump from the field, which lies under the Barents Sea 342 miles (550 km) from Russia and Norway, is destined for the United States.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin said a large part of it could be exported to Europe as requested by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"I can inform you that Gazprom is looking at that and the decision to do that could be taken in the near future," Putin said at a joint news conference with Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac.

"If at the moment Russia exports about 55 billion cubic meters of gas to Germany, then just from Shtokman alone we can export between 25 and 45 billion cubic meters," he said.

He said the Shtokman gas reserves could last between 50 and 70 years.

Gazprom aims to pump 70 billion cubic meters of gas from Shtokman to grab a tenth of the U.S. market by 2010 and 20 percent later.

But Putin's comments indicate Gazprom may be shifting its strategy in favor of exports to European consumers.

Gazprom, which supplies a quarter of Europe's gas needs, has been in talks with foreign partners to develop the $20-billion gas field.

The company needs technology to ship it to the United States. This summer it came close to picking partners for the field from a list of five bidders - Total, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Statoil and Norsk Hydro - but then postponed the final decision.

Industry sources said the move came after Vice President Dick Cheney accused Russia of using energy as a tool of intimidation and blackmail. It also came amid a deadlock in Russia-U.S. talks over Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

European concerns about its dependence on Russian energy were increased by a pricing dispute between Gazprom and Ukraine that led to a dip in supplies last winter. Russian gas pipelines transit Ukraine en route to Europe.

Russia has also caused alarm by putting the brakes on Russian energy projects by Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil. It has also raised doubts over the future of a lucrative production sharing agreement with Total in Siberia.

But Putin said Russia intended to stick to its commitments to European consumers.
"We intend to meet all our obligations in terms of our European partners," he said.

All news from 23 September 2006:

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