Kazakhstan Interested in Gas Pipeline

Kazakhstan's energy minister said Thursday that his oil-rich Central Asian nation was interested in building a gas pipeline to Europe that would bypass Russia.

Oil Minister Baktykozha Izmukhambetov told visiting EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said that his country sought to cooperate with the European Union to diversify its energy export routes.

"A trans-Caspian gas pipeline, from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and further to Europe, is seen as one of the feasible routes," he said after talks with Piebalgs, who was visiting the ex-Soviet republic for the first time as Europe seeks new export routes from the Caspian region and a wider range of oil and gas suppliers.

Russia caused concern in the EU and calls for more diverse sources when it halted deliveries to Ukraine in a price dispute this winter, disrupting supplies to European countries. Russia provides one quarter of the gas Europe consumes.

Kazakhstan plans to produce up to 45 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually by 2015.

A gas pipeline leading to Turkey from Azerbaijan, across the Caspian from Kazakhstan, is under construction, with the first deliveries possible by the fourth quarter of this year.

The European Commission said Kazakhstan was "an important partner for the EU in Central Asia" because it was a key gas supplier and boasted the largest recovering oil reserves in the Caspian region.

"Strengthening discussions with Kazakhstan in the energy sector is of great importance for improving the security of energy supplies to the EU," Piebalgs said in a statement.

He said after talks with Izmukhambetov that Kazakhstan was also important for the EU as "a country where many European companies are making investment and where they could invest more."

Piebalgs, accompanied by European oil and gas industry representatives, also met Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss better cooperation and efforts to open new export routes to the 25-nation EU.

He is also due to visit the Kashagan oil field, the largest oil discovery in the North Caspian Sea.

Kazakhstan is sitting on at least 95 billion barrels of oil, the European Commission said. The country is due to hold a summit between ministers from the EU and countries bordering the Black Sea and Caspian Sea next November.