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A SENIOR government official yesterday denied reports that a mission to Egypt to negotiate a natural gas deal had returned to the island empty-handed.

According to Politis, the Cypriot delegation was told by Egypt’s state-run EGas that they had no natural gas stocks to sell because multinational corporations were at this time unwilling to invest in new liquefaction plants there.

Cyprus is interested in purchasing liquefied natural gas (LNG) which would be converted back into its gaseous form (or re-gasified) at facilities on the island.

Due to its proximity, Egypt is considered an ideal supply partner, although the government is also holding contacts with Algeria and Russia’s Gazprom.

Solon Kassinis, head of the Energy Department at the Commerce Ministry, said the reports about Egyptian denial were inaccurate.

“We went to Egypt to explore the availability of LNG…we neither got a ‘No’ nor a ‘Yes,” he told the Mail.

Kassinis said a slot would open up in 2012, when a supply contract between Egypt and British Gas (BG) is set to expire.

“At that time, the Egyptians will have available some 1.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas. They will initiate a bidding contest, and certainly we’ll be keeping an eye on that.

“But in the meantime we are exploring other options as well,” he said.

The reports come just a day after it surfaced the government would skip tenders for the purchase of natural gas and would go straight to negotiating an agreement with a foreign government.

This would be done to save precious time and find a supplier as soon as possible.

But news that the government was suddenly changing course sparked an indignant reaction from main opposition party DISY. The rightwing party accused the administration of conducting business in a non-transparent manner.

Rejecting the criticism, Commerce Minister Antonis Paschalides said the government never deviated from its stated policy, namely, to negotiate directly with foreign governments.

“We want to cut out the middleman…people or corporations that would receive a commission,” said Paschalides.

Before it can import natural gas, however, Cyprus needs to have in place the necessary infrastructure. But a re-gasification facility is not expected to be ready before 2014 or 2015.

The government has apparently shunned the possibility of buying compressed natural gas (CNG), which requires far less investment.

By Elias Hazou, Cyprus Mail, February 19, 2009
|||Possible gas deal with Egypt by 2012
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