Rem Vyakhirev, the chairman of Russia’s Gazprom monopoly, told his partners from the Italian state-owned energy company ENI that their joint pipeline project has a head start which could put a rival American venture out of business. The Russo-Italian project, called “Blue Stream,” is a seabed pipeline across the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey. The line would link up to a Caspian terminal in Russia, such as Makhachkala in Dagestan, capable of receiving gas from Central Asia, particularly Turkmenistan. Construction should begin this year, Vyakhirev said, giving the project a significant lead over the Americans.

The American project is a pipeline from eastern Turkmenistan across the Caspian seabed to Baku, in Azerbaijan, and thence through Azerbaijan and Georgia to eastern Turkey. Turkmenistan authorities three weeks ago gave Bechtel and General Electric, in a consortium called PSG, the right to go ahead with the $2.5 billion project.

The market is not there to support both projects, and it may not be there to support even one of them. Although Gazprom’s CEO gloated over the start of construction, moving money, not earth, will win this competition. It will take a slick sell to persuade investors to sink big bucks into moving cheap fuel through unstable regions to glutted markets. The group that gets the gas line may be the one with the best line of gas.