SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — An international consortium developing a major natural gas field in the Caspian Sea has agreed in principle to acquire 50 percent of the company operating the Nabucco pipeline, a major project to bring gas to Europe.

The acquisition will be finalized in Vienna on Jan. 18, Bulgarian Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev said Thursday at a meeting of Nabucco shareholders. The remaining 50 percent will be split equally between the current shareholders, the state gas companies from Bulgaria, Turkey, Austria, Germany, Hungary and Romania.

The deal would breathe new life into the European Union-backed pipeline project, which aims to ship 16 billion cubic meter of Caspian gas from Turkey's border with Bulgaria to a hub in Austria by 2018.

Europe hopes it will reduce its dependence on Russian gas.