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US Senate panel approves bill targeting Nord Stream 2, TurkStream gas lines

Washington — The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday approved a sanctions bill targeting Russia's Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream natural gas pipelines, although the latest version appears to protect major European investors.

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The bill would sanction vessels that lay Russian energy export pipelines at least 100 feet below sea level.

ClearView Energy Partners said in a note to clients Wednesday that changes to the legislation since last week appear to remove the sanctions threat against Nord Stream 2 investors Shell, Germany's Wintershall and Uniper, France's Engie and Austria's OMV.

The previous version would have applied to individuals and entities that "intentionally facilitated providing those vessels for the construction of such a project," while the new language goes after individuals and entities that have "intentionally facilitated deceptive or structured transactions to provide those vessels for the construction of such a project."

"To the extent that the five companies' facilitation of relevant transactions is neither deceptive nor structured, we would interpret the change as excluding them from the sanctions," ClearView said.

The bill's 20-2 approval comes after Senator Rand Paul, Republican-Kentucky, tried to persuade the committee to drop the legislation.

"These sanctions would not be felt by the Russians, but by companies from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Finland, Sweden, and Italy, as well as their investors," Paul said in a letter to fellow committee members obtained by the Daily Beast.

Chairman Jim Risch, Republican-Idaho, said after Wednesday's vote that the bill "is a specific, targeted, and timely way to counter Russian malign influence."

Gas flows will start December 30 on the 55 Bcm/year Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, OMV CEO Rainer Seele said earlier Wednesday. The Western European companies will finance 50% of the project while Russia's Gazprom will finance the rest.

-- Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Gary Gentile, newsdesk@spglobal.com