OSLO, Norway (AP) _ The oil ministers for Norway and Britain agreed Thursday to clear investment hurdles for a gas pipeline from a giant Norwegian gas field to customers in Britain.

Petroleum and Energy Minister Einar Steensnaes and British Energy Minister Stephen Timms said a fifth of total Norwegian gas exports and a fifth of British gas supply soon would travel through the pipeline.

``Today marks a milestone in the cooperation between the UK and Norway,'' Steensnaes said, adding, that the pipeline, when completed, would transport gas from Norway's Ormen Lange field.

The oil ministers said the southern half of the pipeline, from the Sleipner production facilities to Easington in southern England, should be operational by October 2006.

The long-awaited signing ceremony was expected to bring relief to partners in the giant Ormen Lange gas field off Norway's west coast.

``The 'Britpipe' project is very important to the UK as we move into a new era where we are dependent on net gas imports,'' Timms said.

Britain is expected to become a net importer of gas by 2007.

Integrated Norwegian energy companies Norsk Hydro and Statoil, and Netherlands-based Royal Dutch/Shell, among others, had asked for an agreement to secure their investment in the gas line.

The field's partners and the Norway's Oil Ministry are set to present development plans to lawmakers in the parliament later this year.

Norway, Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark have extensive petroleum deposits in the North Sea. Norway is the world's third largest petroleum exporter.