Russia Renews Overtures to Original Seven Sisters

Via the always insightful The Oil & The Glory, interesting thoughts on Russia’s recent overtures to some of the original Seven Sisters to participate in major exploration projects.  As the article notes:

“…With cash reserves running down and insufficient economic relief in sight, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, his growl turned into a purr, is welcoming back Western oil companies to work Russia’s natural gas fields.

So how should Shell and Total — both of them the recipients of Putin’s renewed niceness — respond? Are Putin’s past revocations of deals, expulsions from fields at knock-down rates, and ho-hum attitude toward shakedowns reason not to do business with him now that Russia is trouble?

Specifically, Shell is being offered an unspecified role in the highly complex, offshore Sakhalin 3 and Sakhalin 4 natural gas projects (BP walked away from the latter last month after drilling dry holes). Total signed a smallish, $900 million deal to work with Russia’s independent Novatek on the Termokarstovoye natural gas field, and Putin says it’s “entirely possible” that the French company will be permitted to work on future stages of the supergiant Shtokman natural gas field.

The subtext is a World Bank projection last week that Russia’s economy won’t recover to pre-crisis growth until at least 2012; and an International Energy Agency forecast this week that any global oil supply shortage — and thus a possible return to $100-plus-a-barrel prices — isn’t likely before 2013.

The necessity for the involvement of foreigners who still have access to credit — such as Big Oil — seems plain: Shtokman’s developers said in December that the global credit crisis may delay field development.

In other words, for Russia there’s little noticeable light at the end of the tunnel. And Moscow needs to be sure that Gazprom can remain the country’s most powerful economic driver.

More subtext: O&G readers recall that in 2006, Russia unleashed environmental regulators onto Shell in order to persuade it to relinquish its majority stake in Sakhalin-2 to Gazprom for what many analysts at the time regarded as a comparative firesale price of $7.6 billion. The same year, Total had a similar experience when Rosneft canceled a $3 billion partnership in the Vankor oilfield. Exxon Mobil has been forced to sell the natural gas from its Sakhalin I project at cut-rate prices within Russia rather than as it had planned in higher-paying China, as Paul Ausick reports at 24/7 Wall Street. And then there’s long-suffering BP, which, in a series of fresh indignities this year while the Kremlin has stood by, has been powerless as its Russian partners in TNK-BP have steadily swallowed control of the oil-rich venture.

David Lee Smith at Motley Fool suggests that Shell’s apparent agreement to let bygones be bygones and embrace the extended hand is “goofy.” But Tim Newman, a Briton who lives on Sakhalin and blogs at White Sun of the Desert, writes that Shell will be wise to demand international bank guarantees in exchange for fresh investment. Short of that, Newman says, expect “another round of blubbering and hurt feelings in five years time.” Over at TPRR, Tim Pendry argues that the totality of events reflects Russia’s “complex gamble on events.”

Pendry and Newman are both right. While seeking foreign investment at home, and failing to arrest serious depletion of its domestic fields, Gazprom still hasn’t abandoned its geopolitically driven global dealmaking. In addition to continuing to promise to build new multi-billion-dollar gas pipelines into Europe, it signed a deal with Nigeria last week promising $2.5 billion in exploration investment there.

Meanwhile, another natural gas row is on the near horizon between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine has a $4.2 billion bill coming due to Gazprom on July 7th, and lacks the money to pay. As Carl Mortished at The Times of London reports, the European Union is attempting to get some emergency money for the Ukrainians from the International Monetary Fund or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The good news is that the latest dust-up is not occurring in the dead of winter.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 at 9:26 pm and is filed under Gazprom, Russia.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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Wildcats & Black Sheep is a personal interest blog dedicated to the identification and evaluation of maverick investment opportunities arising in frontier - and, what some may consider to be, “rogue” or “black sheep” - markets around the world.

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