* ITGI has not given up on Azeri contract
* Eastern Mediterranean could see gas boom in near future
* But several border disputes have to be solved
By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA, May 11 (Reuters) - The Greek-Italian ITGI pipeline project has begun looking to ship natural gas from recently discovered Israeli and Cypriot gas fields but has not given up hope to transport gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz 2 field, its chief executive said.
Elio Ruggeri, the head of the Italy-Turkey-Greece-Interconnector (ITGI), said on Friday the project was not tailor-made for one supplier and was ready to transport any gas coming from the Caspian region, the Middle East or the eastern Mediterranean.
The project was dealt a major blow in February when the Shah Deniz II consortium chose the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)project over ITGI as a possible route, should it decide on Italy as the destination for its gas.
“We have not given up our hope to re-engage with Shah Deniz. Obviously we acknowledge there is now a preference for TAP, but we will wait and see what will be the solution on that,” Ruggeri told Reuters on the sidelines of an energy forum in Bulgaria.
ITGI plans to transport 10 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year of gas from the Turkish-Greek border to Italy.
“Shah Deniz is not the only source of gas in the region. Interesting opportunities are emerging also in the east Mediterranean, and ITGI is by concept a multi-source project,” he said.
Producers in the Shah Deniz 2 field in Azerbaijan, led by BP and Statoil, plan to ship around 16 bcm a year through Turkey into Europe from 2017 or 2018.
A decision on which pipeline project will get Shah Deniz 2’s go-ahead is expected in June.
Another contender for the Azeri gas is the Nabucco pipeline project, which would transport central Asian gas into Europe via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary into Austria and western Europe.
But critics say the 32 bcm Nabucco project, estimated at a development cost of over $12 billion, is too expensive and too big to be viable and that the project must downsize if it is to be chosen.
Ruggeri said the ITGI project was well advanced and had completed most permitting procedures and that it was ready to take a final investment decision by the middle of next year.
He said the company would look into all possibilities.
“Whichever supply comes first, we will look into it. In the Leviathan basin offshore Israel, near Cyprus, near Greece - all this region has significant amounts of gas reserves,” he said.
Texas-based Noble Energy and its Israeli exploration partner Delek have said the Leviathan field - 130 km (80 miles) off the Israeli port of Haifa - is the world’s biggest deepwater gas find in the past decade, with reserves estimated around 480 bcm, almost five times as much as Britain, Europe’s biggest gas consumer, uses per year.
The Leviathan gas field is one of several large recent gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean basin that have the potential of shifting Europe’s gas industry from the North Sea, where reserves are dwindling fast, towards the Mediterranean.
Most reserves that have so far been identified are in Israeli or Cypriot waters, but the prospect of a gas bonanza in the region has renewed maritime border disputes between Turkey, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel and Greece.
Delek and Noble are seeking partners in their Israeli and Cypriot fields to further explore the waters in which experts also hope to find some 600 million barrels of oil hidden in a layer beneath the gas.