EU puts off decision on Russian use of Opal Gas Pipeline

he European Commission said it had delayed indefinitely a decision on whether to allow Russia greater access to the Opal gas pipeline in northeastern Germany, even though its approval would improve the security of gas supply to Central Europe. Russian gas giant Gazprom’s access to the pipeline has been limited by an EU law that seeks to prevent energy suppliers from dominating infrastructure. But no one else has taken up the spare capacity, and Western analysts and Russian officials say giving Russia more access could play a major role in improving EU energy security because it connects to Russia’s Nord Stream pipeline. Citing technical reasons, Commission spokeswoman Sabine Berger said on Wednesday that the bloc’s executive body had agreed with German regulator BNetzA to prolong the deadline for a decision on Opal. « It is difficult to specify the exact timing of the decision, » she added in an e-mailed statement. The Russian Energy Ministry said in a separate statement, however, that the decision on Opal had been extended till mid-September. Introduced in 2011, Nord Stream pumps gas from Russia via the Baltic Sea into Germany, bypassing traditional transit state Ukraine. Nord Stream’s capacity is 55 billion cubic meters, or bcm, a year, but Gazprom, which heads the consortium of shareholders, has been pumping only half that. Opal provides a link from Nord Stream where it makes landfall in northeastern Germany to the Czech Republic. It has a capacity of 36 bcm but has also been operating at half of that for the past three years. President Vladimir Putin said in January the Commission had agreed to allow Russia 100 percent access to Opal, but the Commission subsequently said a decision had been delayed, again citing the need for technical clarifications.