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Romanian President Argues for Oil Pipeline

Romanian president Traian Basescu said Friday that his country is better situated than Bulgaria for a planned oil pipeline from the Black Sea across the Balkans to western Europe. VOA's Barry Wood reports Mr. Basescu spoke at an energy forum in Washington.

Numerous pipelines are planned to get crude from the newly developed oil fields of the Caspian Sea basin to world markets. One, from Azerbaijan to Georgia to eastern Turkey - the 1,700-kilometer BTC (Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan) pipeline - is built and was recently opened. Turkey is proposing that other lines be constructed across Turkey from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean to carry Caspian oil coming by tanker from the Russian port of Novorosiysk.

On the European side of the Black Sea Romania and Bulgaria are promoting rival projects to transport Caspian oil west across the Balkans closer to western markets. President Basescu, a former sea captain, says the Romanian port of Constanza is the logical starting point for a trans-Balkan pipeline.

"Constanza is the single harbor on the Black Sea, on the European side of the Black Sea, that can accommodate vessels of 150,000 tons deadweight, is the maximum size that we can accommodate," he said. "And the other harbor that can do that is Novorosiysk."

Basescu doubts that two Balkan pipelines will be built. Greece is proposing a third and shorter route that would go from Bulgaria to the Greek port of Alexandroupolis. All of these proposals would have the effect of reducing oil tanker traffic through the crowded, environmentally fragile Straits of Bosporous at Istanbul. Richard Ennis of ING Bank in New York says there are other advantages to the Romanian option.

"It will also reduce tanker traffic in the Black Sea," he said. "Larger vessels will be able to shuttle from the Novorosiysk terminal on the eastern side of the Black Sea across to Constanza and that will reduce the overall tanker traffic."

With oil prices holding above $70 a barrel pipeline projects are becoming economically more attractive. Nonetheless none of the options through Bulgaria and Romania have won critical financial support. Oil companies would prefer that other entities absorb the up to $3 billion cost. In addition, the Romanian option has encountered unexpected opposition from Slovenia, which objects to the pipeline transiting its Adriatic coastline en route to refineries and terminals at Trieste, Italy.