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Iran gas forum focuses on supply security

The world's leading gas producers held their first ever gathering in Iran ...

The world's leading gas producers held their first ever gathering in Iran yesterday to exchange views, with supply security featuring high on the agenda.

Attending the Gas Exporting Countries' Forum (GECF) were energy ministers from Algeria, Iran, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar and top officials from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Russia and Turkmenistan. The 11 hold more than 60 percent of the world's reserves between them.

"The forum will continue without any doubt to make the utmost effort not only to ensure the security of gas supply but also to pave the way for this clean fuel to reach the final consumers at a more rational and economic cost," said Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, presiding over the two-day gathering.

"A common objective is to meet consumers' growing demand for gas both inside and outside their national boundaries," said Zanganeh, whose country holds the world's second largest gas reserves after Russia.

The world's gas powers all voiced strong support for GECF, but were at pains to say that it was in no way a cartel. "This is not a gang up to exploit consumers," Rilwanu Lukman, petroleum adviser to Nigeria's president, said on the sidelines of the meeting.

"Right now the Americans are short of gas. They need additional resources. A forum like this will alleviate their fears of a supply crunch in the future," he added. Zanganeh said participants were prepared to discuss all facets of the gas industry, ranging from upstream to downstream and marketing.

He said the meeting had been kept low profile because producers "didn't want to create noise about cartels". "This is just a brainstorming session to bring views from all gas exporting countries," Zanganeh said. "There is no such thing as a gas cartel, I deny that very strongly." All producers insisted that the forum would work to the benefit of consumers as well.

"Consumers must feel safe about supply and that means additional investment in gas infrastructure," Lukman said. "There is no shortage of gas. It is the infrastructure which must be improved."

Zaganeh welcomed participation by consuming countries, but said they were not taking part at this meeting. The group is to meet once a year on the ministerial level and twice a year at senior expert level. Algerian Energy and Mines Minister Chakib Khelil proposed that the next ministerial forum be held in Algiers in January 2002.

Lukman said gas producers would use the GECF as a platform to discuss common issues and problems, especially with gas becoming more prominent source of energy. A critic of European Union (EU) deregulation policies, Lukman said gas producers had no quarrel with opening the market to more suplies on an equitable basis.

"But discriminatory treatment of sources of supply - that's something else," he said. energy market and that they may not be when Asian gas consuming countries are liberalised. "This refers mainly to taxation of fuels taken unilaterally, the gas directives as well as policy trends issued in the green policy paper issued by the European commision," he said.

Khelil said gas producers were also being challenged with "forced liberalisation of the natural gas market without accounting for the time delay in actually achieving a real open market".

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