Energy companies EdF SA, Eni SpA and Wintershall AG on Friday signed a shareholder deal with Russian gas exporting monopoly Gazprom to take 50 percent in a European gas pipeline project.
The agreement signed by the companies' chief executives gives Italy's Eni 20 percent in the project while France's EdF and Germany's Wintershall get 15 percent each.
The South Stream project is meant to transport Russian natural gas to Europe under the Black Sea. The pipeline, which is expected to start in 2015, would ship up to 63 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria and Italy in one leg and Croatia, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey in a second.
The three were previously named as Gazprom's partners but Friday's deal is the first time they signed a legally binding agreement.
Eni's chief executive Paolo Scaroni told Russian news agencies that South Stream partners would present an investment plan to potential creditors in the first half of 2012. Scaroni said the construction of the underwater section alone is likely to cost $10 billion.
South Stream is rivaling a EU-backed Nabucco pipeline that's slated to ship gas from the Caspian region to Austria via southern Europe.