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German OPAL gas capacity to be sold on PRISMA if EC agrees: BNetzA


Russian Gazprom joint venture OPAL Gastransport would have to sell half of the available capacity of its OPAL gas pipeline in Germany through European gas capacity auction platform PRISMA under a deal agreed with Germany's federal grid regulator BNetzA, a BNetzA official told Platts Tuesday.

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"Under the updated agreement, OPAL Gastransport can still keep 50% of the capacity for its own use, but there is no gas release program. Instead it has to offer the other 50% to the market using the PRISMA platform, and regular third-party access rules apply," BNetzA press officer Armasari Soetarto said.

"The agreement still has to be approved by the European Commission," she added.

OPAL Gastransport is jointly owned by Russian gas producer Gazprom and German oil and gas producer Wintershall. It owns and operates the 36 billion cubic meter/year OPAL pipeline, which transports Russian gas from the Nord Stream pipeline through Germany to the Czech-German border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week the EU had agreed to give Gazprom full use of the OPAL pipeline, but the EC said it has until March 10 to make a final decision on the BNetzA agreement.

Under the agreement, Gazprom would have the right to bid itself for the capacity sold through PRISMA, a platform which launched last April, so in theory could end up with 100% of the capacity in the short and medium term.

Under the EU's third-party access rules set out in its 2009 third energy package, pipeline owners must offer 100% of the capacity to the market, unless they have agreed an exemption with the relevant national regulator and the EC.

BNetzA and EC granted OPAL Gastransport a partial exemption in 2009 allowing it sole use of half the capacity for 22 years. If OPAL Gastransport wanted to book more than half the Czech border capacity, it had to carry out a gas release program of 3 billion cubic meters per year.

BNetzA notified the updated agreement to the EC in November. The EC asked for extra information, which triggered a two-month extension to the standard two-month deadline for its decision.

The EU's third energy package rules give the EC the power to require regulators to change or withdraw an exemption decision. The regulator has to comply with such requirements within a month.

--Siobhan Hall,
--Edited by Jeremy Lovell,