VIENNA (Dow Jones)

The consortium behind the Nabucco gas pipeline project could include the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, or SOCAR, as a seventh partner, a spokesman for Austrian oil and gas company OMV AG (OMV.VI) said Friday.

"It would make sense to have SOCAR on board as a seventh partner representing the producing countries," OMV spokesman Thomas Huemer told Dow Jones Newswires. He added that preliminary talks between the consortium, SOCAR and the Azeri government have already taken place.

"The company (SOCAR) and Azerbaijan's government have expressed their interest, but it is still too early to talk about terms for SOCAR's inclusion. A decision has yet to be made within the consortium," Huemer said.

The consortium behind the planned EUR4.6 billion gas pipeline consists of OMV, Hungary's MOL Nyrt, (MOL.BU), Bulgaria's Bulgargaz, Romania's Transgaz and Turkey's Botas.

The 3,000-kilometer will connect Turkey with Austria via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary and will reduce Russia's dominant role as gas supplier to Western Europe.

The inclusion of a sixth partner is expected to be finalized before the end of the year. Industry experts have tipped Germany's RWE (RWE.XE) as the most likely sixth partner, but Gaz de France (1020848.FR) has also expressed interest.

Huemer said a decision on including SOCAR in the consortium won't be made until the sixth partner has been chosen.

"The sixth partner will definitely come from Western Europe," he said.

On Sept. 20, OMV announced Austria and Azerbaijan had signed a memorandum of understanding to start talks on possible gas supplies to the Nabucco pipeline.

The former Soviet republic's natural gas reserves are estimated at 6 trillion cubic meters, the country's Industry and Energy Minister Natik Aliyev has said.

"We have a good opportunity to turn Azerbaijan into a big transit country for natural gas. Azerbaijan will produce 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year in 2020," Aliyev was quoted as saying at an energy conference Oct. 3.

"While Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan can be sources of gas for Nabucco only in the future, Azerbaijan is ready now," Aliyev said, according to Russia & CIS Business & Financial Newswire.

The construction of the Nabucco pipeline is expected to start in 2009, while production is anticipated to start in 2012.

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