Bulgaria in talks with Turkey on long-term gas deal
SOFIA, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's interim energy minister is in Istanbul on Friday for talks he hopes will lead to a deal this month on long-term access to liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in neighbouring Turkey and the transit of the gas to its border.
The chief executives of Bulgaria's state gas company Bulgargaz and gas network operator Bulgartransgaz are also taking part in the talks as Bulgaria seeks new sources of gas.
Russia, which covered over 95% of the Balkan country's gas needs, cut off deliveries to Bulgaria in April after Sofia refused to pay for them in roubles.
An energy ministry spokesman said interim minister Rossen Hristov and the chief executives flew to Istanbul late on Thursday.
Hristov told reporters before leaving that talks between Bulgaria's Bulgargaz and Turkey's Botas were advancing fast and he hoped a deal could be reached this year.
"We are holding talks to reserve capacity of one billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year on Turkish LNG terminals and for the transit of the gas through Botas network to our border," Hristov said.
"This is very important, because we have enough offers for LNG cargo shipments. What we do not have is somewhere to off-load them," he said.
"We are firmly committed to cutting our dependence on Russia," he added.
Bulgaria wants to book capacity at Turkish terminals through 2036 to import 1 bcm of LNG gas a year. The capacity for 2023 will be smaller, as Bulgargaz has already booked slots for several months at a Greek LNG terminal.
A capacity and transit deal with Botas would allow Bulgargaz to seal its own gas import contracts with U.S. or European LNG producers and cut reliance on Russian gas, Hristov said.
To try to obtain better prices, he said Bulgargaz may also join Botas' already advanced talks with major U.S. and European LNG producers.
At present, the European Union country imports 1 bcm of gas a year from Azerbaijan and covers the rest of its needs, about 3 bcm per year, through LNG imports from neighbouring Greece.
Under the energy ministry plans, Bulgaria will cover a third of its gas needs with LNG gas imports through Turkey, one third through the LNG terminal near the Greek city of Alexandroupolis which should become operational in 2024 and one third with Azeri supplies. (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Barbara Lewis)