PARIS - The Associated Press

Gaz de France is still keen to acquire a stake in the prospective Nabucco pipeline to deliver gas from Central Asia to Europe, the company's chairman said Tuesday.
"We're still very open to participating in Nabucco," Jean-Francois Cirelli said at a hearing at the French Senate on the natural gas company's pending merger with electric utility Suez.
"A new route for gas is in the interest of Europe," Cirelli said. "But if GDF Suez is not in the pipeline, we're still a candidate to buy some of the capacity that will pass through it," Cirelli said.
The European Union and the United States have strongly backed Nabucco, which would deliver gas from Turkmenistan and other Central Asian and Caspian countries westward, bypassing Russia. The project, however, has been slowed by high costs and uncertainty over sources of supply.
All Central Asian natural gas exports to the EU currently flow through Russia, which has sought to cement its grip on energy supplies to Europe.
The West hopes to use gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz fields to feed the Nabucco pipeline, but Russia has also been courting Azerbaijan, hoping to buy all of the estimated annual output of 12-13 billion cubic meters of gas at Shah Deniz's second stage where production is expected to start in 2012.
Moscow dealt a heavy blow to Nabucco last fall after reaching a deal with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan for those countries' Caspian Sea gas supplies to flow through Russia. It is also backing a rival pipeline route from the Caspian via Russia.
Nabucco is being developed by a consortium led by Austria's OMV. The consortium also includes Hungary's Mol, BOTAŞ of Turkey, Bulgargaz of Bulgaria and Transgaz of Romania.
GDF's Cirelli said the Nabucco project faces two difficulties � the size of the investment needed, which he estimated at between 5-6 billion euros, and finding gas to fill the pipeline.