Author:Owen, Tom

Over the last decade the UAE Offsets Group in Abu Dhabi has been talking about and planning the Dolphin pipeline, a $8-10 billion project to bring Qatari gas to the emirate and then market it on to Dubai and possibly Oman and Pakistan. Pipeline projects are notoriously slow to take shape -witness attempts to set up a Caspian pipeline -- and many in the region doubted that Dolphin would ever get off the drawing board. They cited the complexities of crossing so many borders, technical obstacles, and the sometimes fractious relations between Gulf neighbours, especially where their precious natural resources are concerned.

All of which makes recent progress on the Dolphin project more impressive. It was officially launched to the world media in March 1999. In November of that year Hatem Fawzi, Dolphin's Egyptian-born director, told The Middle Easet: "We have been making Dolphin known in the public domain and sharing our vision with governments in the region. Now we are at a stage where we are very close to finalising strategic partners ... and when all of these are in place negotiations will begin to take forward initial agreements".

He refused to give an estimated date for gas to start flowing from Qatar to Abu Dhabi, but said, "When these agreements are signed then there will be more definition and dear timelines, and we will then communicate our contract strategy."

It now seems that Fawzi was being prudent in his reticence, rather than evasive. The `strategic partners' were locked into the project in July 2000 with the formation of Dolphin Energy Limited (DEL), a Jerseyregistered company. Ownership of DEL is split between UOG, with the controlling stake of 51 per cent, and TotalFinaEtf and Enron of the US, taking 24.5 per cent each.

Still there was scepticism from many quarters; Qatar's attitude appeared only lukewarm, and the all-important pricing contract, the gas sales agreement (GSA), seemed to be nowhere near signing, despite a memorandum of understanding on the subject. Now, however, DEL has opened an office in Qatar and Qatari officials have made explicit their support for Dolphin: in February 2001 the Qatari energy minister, Abdullah Al Attiyah, told journalists "The project is in its final stages after experts from Dolphin and Qatar Petroleum reached agreement on the most important aspects of the deal."

He was almost certainly referring to a preliminary agreement to the GSA which is on the table and dose to signing. This `terms...

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