Page last updated at 14:43 GMT, Wednesday, 17 September 2008 15:43 UK

EU to help Nigeria with pipeline

By Alex Last
BBC News, Lagos

Shell oil and gas terminal in Nigeria's Niger Delta (file image)
Nigeria has the seventh largest gas reserves in the world

The European Union has offered to help Nigeria develop plans for a trans-Saharan pipeline to take gas from Nigeria to Europe.

The offer was made during a visit by the EU's energy commissioner to the Nigerian capital.

The move is part of plans to reduce EU reliance on Russian energy supplies.

It comes after Russia's Gazprom expressed interest in the pipeline and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nigerian government.

The memorandum covers co-operation in the exploration, development and transportation of gas reserves.

Europe is increasingly worried about its dependence on Russian gas, especially after Russia's action in Georgia increased its influence over European energy supply routes through the Caucasus.

This wake-up call has made the EU look more urgently for alternatives.

And so to Nigeria, which has the world's seventh largest gas reserves.

Now the EU is proposing to help the Nigerian government develop a long-mooted trans-Saharan pipeline which would take gas from Nigeria through Niger and Algeria, direct to Europe.

Security threat

But Russia, it seems, has realised Nigeria's importance too, as it tries to tighten its grip on European energy supplies.

A week before the EU offer, the Russian gas giant Gazprom signed a deal with the Nigerian government for gas exploration and transportation, and has clearly stated its interest in the proposed pipeline.

Gazprom can offer huge investment in infrastructure as an inducement to do deals.

But at the moment, much of the Nigerian gas is already tied up in agreements with Western oil majors.

The prospect of a pipeline is still a way off.

Even if it goes ahead there is also the issue of security, with militants in Nigeria's gas-producing Niger Delta, Tuareg rebels in Niger, and Islamist groups in Algeria who may see the pipeline as a very tempting target.

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