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Turkey and four EU member states signed a deal on Nabucco today. But, writing last week, Steve LeVine is not exactly optimistic:

Though Nabucco’s devisers have been struggling for years, the formula for building a pipeline is actually quite simple: If you have a sufficiently large reserve of natural gas, financiers will probably pay for the construction of a pipeline to sell it. Conversely, if you lack that gas, bankers will tell you to come back when you get some.

The latter is the situation for the European Union and Washington, Nabucco’s primary backers.

Turkmenistan -- originally, Nabucco was meant to build on U.S. efforts to provide Central Asia with an alternative transport route to Russia - has balked at contracting with any serious western players for any fields on-shore, where the large volumes of natural gas are situated. Azerbaijan -- a possible backup player until Turkmenistan possibly changes its mind - last week signed a deal with Russia for its volumes from the super-giant Shah Deniz field. The re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the bloody crackdown that has followed, suspends hopes for the medium term at least for Iran becoming that source of natural gas. Iraq is also mentioned, but that’s only a reality in the event of a deal between the Kurds and the central government, a long-shot indeed.

The question is why the pro-Nabucco forces persist in pushing on a proverbial wet noodle. While the physics of inertia carry them forward, they might pay attention to other developments acting to diversify Europe’s natural gas.

As No Hot Air blogs, one is new technology that makes shale gas possible and economical to extract from convenient places like Germany, Hungary and Poland. Closer at hand in terms of availability is liquefied natural gas, which has come on stream in large volumes out of Qatar; but Europe must build the infrastructure to handle it.

Will Europe and the U.S. shift their focus to these very real alternatives?

-- Luke Allnutt

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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