Thursday, November 15, 2012

Competing Visions for Turkmen Gas

The legal status of the Caspian Sea continues to divide energy analysts' views on the future of Turkmenistan's gas production.  A senior Turkmen official who refused to be identified by name said the country plans to begin production next year in the Galkynysh (South Iolotan) field, the second largest gas field in the world.  "Right now, three gas-processing plants are being built, and two of them are certain to be ready in January or February," he said.  Such plans again raises the question as to who will buy the oil.  The Turkmen official said the government was holding out for some long-term agreements.  "We would like to receive guarantees on transit and purchase (volumes).  We need to come to a principle agreement on this."

In the West, the United States, Turkey and the European Union appear united that the energy should flow toward the Atlantic.  Patricia Flor, EU representative for Central Asia, urged Turkmenistan "to reach agreement with EU energy companies on a commercial contract."  Such contracts would require the construction of the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP).  Turkey has thrown its support solidly behind this.  On September 3, 2012, Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz announced that Turkey intended to import and transport Turkmenistan's gas through the proposed TCP and TANAP pipelines.  Turkmenistan President Berdymuhamedov repeated his country's interest in selling to Europe through the TCP.

Russia, however, continues to oppose construction of the TCP.  According to the Russian envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, in 2007 the presidents of the five littoral states of the Caspian Sea adopted a binding resolution at the Second Caspian Summit that all major decisions dealing with that body of water would require the consensus of all. The United States disagrees.  Lynne Tracy, deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, said that if Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan agree on a pipeline that crosses only their territorial waters, "no other country has veto power over that decision."

Looking at the controversy and other factors, the energy consultants Wood Mackenzie conclude that Turkmen energy will go to China instead of Europe.  In a Reuters report, WoodMac's senior gas supply analyst is quoted as saying "The practicalities of the project are challenging and without any significant progress in the last decade, the proposed pipeline has been overtaken by competing projects....We forecast that China will have around 50 bcm of gas demand in 2020 that needs to be satisfied by additional imports, and Central Asan gas could play a key role in meeting this demand."

China has another advantage that might prevent the TCP from being constructed:  it finances pipelines headed East and there does not appear to be a white knight on the TCP horizon.

Gazprom Formally Agrees to Build South Stream

The speculation is over:  after years of planning and speeches by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gazprom has formally committed to the construction of the South Stream natural gas pipeline.  This route, to be filled with natural gas Russia formerly transported to Europe via Ukraine's Cold War-era Peace Pipeline, is expected to deliver 63 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually to Europe.  According to the company, it has signed the final investment agreement with its European partners and will commence construction in December 2012.

The last hold-up before making a financial commitment had been Bulgaria, the first European country the pipeline would transit.  The Bulgarians had little choice except to sign.  They had been receiving Russian gas since 1 April at an 11% discount, but the discount was predicated on Bulgaria's agreement to South Stream.  If Bulgaria had refused to allow Gazprom to build the pipeline, it would have been obligated to repay the discounted funds, estimated at $70 million.  Russia increased the pressure when state-run Atomstroiexport filed a $1.3 billion compensation claim against Bulgaria before the International Court of Arbitration for a planned nuclear power plant at Belene that Bulgaria cancelled.

In the end, the Bulgarians received a sweet deal.  When the government signed the investment agreement with Gazprom, they also signed a long-term gas contract with a 20% price discount beginning January 1, 2013.  While the discount is a plus, Gazprom also got good news:  maintenance of the linkage between oil and gas prices, and a take-or-pay obligation for 80% of the contracted 2.9 bcm annually.  "We've agreed on very preferential prices for Bulgaria," said Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller.  "With South Stream, Bulgaria becomes the biggest transit country for Russian gas in Europe."  Interestingly, Miller denied the price discounts were part of the South Stream negotiations.  "These issues are not related," he said.

Bulgaria does not have to pay anything for construction of its share of the pipeline.  Gazprom will lend the funds to Bulgarian Energy Holding, to be repaid out of dividends earned on the project.

Obtaining financial commitments is not the entire battle, however.  Since the pipeline will go through members of the European Union, the European Commission must approve an environomental impact statement before construction.  Without an official communique to get the review started, the European Commission does not even acknowledge that South Stream is a viable project.  "It was never communicated to the Commision that South Stream has a final route," said EC energy spokesperson Marlee Holzner.  "We don't regard this as a final investment decision."

There have also been various reports that Russia believes a quick start to the project will mean the project does not have to meet the EU's third energy liberalization package, requiring the divestment of the distribution network from the transportation network.  According to the Commission, however, the package is already in effect and South Stream must abide by it.  To that end, it has held meetings with South Stream transit countires to make sure any bilateral agreements with the Russians will comport with EU rules and regulations.

European Commission Challenges Gazprom

With the industry's eyes turned toward the BP-Rosneft deal, little attention is being paid to the  Russian state-controlled natural gas company, Gazprom.  This institution has held a monopoly on the control of gas to Eastern Europe, and a controlling interest in the gas to the rest of the continent.  Now, however, Gazprom's position is being challenged by the European Commission.

On September 4, 2012 the EU's antitrust authories opened a formal investigation into whether the company had blocked fair competition in the natural gas markets of Central and Eastern Europe.  The European Commission said Gazprom may have divided markets by hindering the free flow of gas across European Union member states, and imposed unfair prices on its customers.  "Such behavior, if established, may constitute a restriction of competition and lead to higher prices and deterioration of security of supply," they said.  If found guilty on such charges, the EC could fine Gazprom as much as ten percent of its worldwide income. 

The EC investigation is currently focusing on the Eastern European countries of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania--although it could be expanded.  It follows last year's raids on the office of Gazprom's European partners, probably in search of evidence to support the charges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded quickly, issuing a decree that strategicially important companies--including Gazprom--could not provide information to regulators from "unions of foreign states" without prior approval of the Kremlin.  Further, no approval would be granted if the changes "damage the economic interests of the Russian Federation."  Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov characterized the investigation as commercial pressure, and threatened to direct Russian gas away from Europe.  The investigation "can be viewed as pressure from the European Union on Gazprom, with the goal of influencing prices and the results of commercial contracts, which clearly contradict the principles of market," he said.  Kupriyanov added the investigation is encouraging Gazprom to look to Asia for new markets.

The EC's actions are generally popular in Eastern Europe among a population that has been paying high gas prices under "take or pay" contracts.  "It is important what Brussels is doing," said Szymon Kardas, a Russian energy expert at the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw.  "This is the Competition Commission that took on Microsoft for its dominant position in Europe."  Lithuanian deputy ambassador to the European Union, Arunas Vinciunas, said, "For a small country it means a lot.  It shows that we can defend our interests through solidarity inside the E.U."  Not everyone agrees that the investigation is a good idea, however.  The Suddeutsche Zeitung called it an unprecedented action and a direct attack on Russia's President Putin.

Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, predicted Gazprom will be found guilty on all charges.  "The proceedings can take years," he wrote in the Moscow Times, "but the outcome appears obvious.  The oil-linked prices are likely to be deemed anti-competitive, as the very long-term contracts with fixed prices and volumes.  The Gazprom take-or-pay clauses that force a customer to take the whole volume or pay for it in any case will be prohibited, and prohibitions against reselling are evidently anti-competitive.  Finally, Gazprom will in all likelihood be fined billions of euros for its long-lasting malpractices."

Separate from the investigation, Gazprom is also under pressure because of weak demand in Europe and Asia.  In September, Gazprom announced it was restricting access to their pipelines by independent producers.  "Today the gas market in Russia has an excess of resources over demand," said Gazprom's deputy head of marketing and liquids processing, Alexander Mikheyev.  "In this situation we are looking at cuts to gas intake from independent producers."

The Europeans had long demanded that independents have unrestricted access to the pipeline network, as a way to insure a diversified supply for the European market.  But Merrill Lynch oil analyst Karen Kosanian points out that Russian domestic demand for natural gas is down 3.6 percent so far this year.  "In this environment Gazprom would have to shut in its own production to sustain the independents," she said.

The falling revenues, EC investigations, and competition from shale gas and LNG, have led Gazprom to lose its favored position in the Kremlin constellation of stars.  Gazprom has been the principle source of Kremlin revenue for decades.  The Russian government owns over 50% of the $119 billion company, and Gazprom accounts for 12% of all Russian exports, according to the Washington Post.  Profits were $44 billion in 2011, but have declined more than 23% in 2012.  Russian deputy minister of Economic Development, Andrei Klepach, said the company could face serious problems because of shale gas competition.  Further, the company has not made sufficient investment to modernize their operations.   "It's the nationalization of costs and the privatization of profit," wrote Rusenergy analyst Mikhail Krutikhin.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

BP May Open Britain to Russian Gas

Additional ramifications of the BP-Rosneft deal are now coming to light.  With the purchase of TNK-BP by Rosneft, BP's Russian partners have agreed to end their legal battles with British Petroleum.  Sources claim that the two sides agreed to settle all their disputes after BP  made a $325 million payment to the Russian consortium AAR.  Supposedly, this move has been taken to give BP the freedom to pursue the development of Arctic oil.  "BP is not taking an equity position in Rosneft as a portfolio investor," said chief strategist at Sberbank CIB Chris Weafer.  "they are looking at a future relationship through which they can grow production and reserves in Russia."

It appears, however, that this deal has also cleared the boards for BP to work with Gazprom to bring Russian natural gas to Great Britain.  AAR had previously taken the position that their partnership with BP mandated all BP business opportunities in Russia be run through TNK-BP.  With all claims settled, sources report that the consortium has relinquished all claims on BP's future Russian activities.  That could include moving into the natural gas market.  Gazprom's  Chief Executive Alexi Miller reported in June that BP was interested in participating in an expanded Nord Stream pipeline, one that would carry product to Britain.

Such a move is a  questionable investment decision by the British company, given the plummeting price natural gas is commanding, and the large quantities of liquified natural gas (LNG) coming on the market to compete with pipeline gas.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Reprecussions from the sale of TNK-BP

With the recent decision of OAO Rosneft to purchase TNK-BP from its various owners, one of the most strained partnerships in Russian economic history comes to an end.  Rosneft has agreed to pay a total of $54.8 billion to BP plc and the Alfa-Access-Renova consortum (AAR) controlled by four Russian billionaires.  These oligarchs--Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Viktor Vekeselberg and Len Blavatnik-- defied the stated policy of the Kremlin last year to prohibit BP from entering into an artic exploration agreement with Rosneft.  With ill feelings all around, it was apparent that this business union was headed for a divorce.

Initially, AAR offered to buy BP's 50% ownership in TNK-BP, but this offer was withdrawn when Rosneft offered to purchase AAR's shares instead.  AAR is slated to receive $28 billion for it's half of the company.  Rosneft then offered BP the chance to sell its shares, as well.  Anxious to raise capital to pay its Gulf spill-related expenses, BP agreed to accept $10-$15 billion in cash,and a 12.5% share in Rosneft.  BP plans to use part of the cash payment to purchase an additional 5.66% of Rosneft which, combined with the 1.5% share they already hold, will bring their share of ownership to approximately 19.75%.  75% of Rosneft is owned by the Russian state, while the remainder is sold in the market. 

Analysts believe that the majority stock holder Russian state will help finance the purchase.  "For Rosneft to buy both AAR and BP to form a fully state-owned oil champion would be the cleaner solution for the Russian state, and is likely to require further state injection into Rosneft, given that the company had previously been sounding out the market for a loan to buy part of BP's share," said RBC Capital Markets Corporation's Peter Hutton.  Not as much cash is required for the deal as the original figures would indicate, since BP and AAR are owed about $2.5 billion in dividends from TNK-BP.  According to journalist Paul Whitfield, this means the cash proceeds from the two deals are actually $26.75 billion for AAR and $15.85 billion for BP, falling to $11.05 billion for BP after its acquisition of Rosneft stock.

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears happy with the deal.  "This is a very good signal for the Russian market.  It is a good, large deal.  I would like to thank you for this work," he told Rosneft CEO and longtime ally Igor Sechin.  Putin should be happy:  the deal gives Rosneft a seat on BP's board.  This will give Russia a voice in BP operations outside of Russian territory such as in the Caspian where BP is the lead oil company.

The deal puts Rosneft ahead of Gazprom as the leading energy producer in Russia.  After the deal is consummated, Rosneft will produce 4 million barrels of crude oil a day.  This does not appear to be the result of any inside-Kremlin politics, but economics.  As the price of natural gas declines in the face of the shale revolution, it should be anticipated that Gazprom's importance would also decline.  Moscow needs revenues, however, and the price of oil remains high.  Igor Sechin, driven out of the cabinet by former President Medvedev, is back in the cat bird seat.

Bulgaria Playing Both Sides

Against all expectations, Bulgaria has emerged as a key player in the battle for control of the Southern Energy Corridor.  This Black Sea country is astride the most logical route between the gas fields and European markets for both South Stream and TANAP.  Bulgaria has agreed to cooperate with both consortiums, while playing for maximum advantage.
In August 2012, Bulgaria and Gazprom announced they would conclude an investment contract in November for the construction of South Stream.  Simultaneously, Bulgarian Minister of Energy and Economy Delyan Dobrev announced a new gas-supply contract that featured an 11% price in gas for the remainder of 2012.
Once having achieved its goal of obtaining Bulgarian cooperation, however, the Russians appear to have upped the ante.  For construction of South Stream to begin, the Russians declared they wanted $1.3 billion in compensation for the Belene nuclear plant.  This was a project that the former Bulgarian government had contracted with Russia, but that current Prime Minister Boiko Borisov cancelled when he took office last year.  Borisov was outraged.  "We are observing all our commitments on South Stream.  For Belene we continue to negotiate...That is why I think we have been absolutely treacherously surprised by that claim."  Bulgarian observers pushed back, threatening that the government would be forced to cancel South Stream.  Ilian Vassilev of Innovative Energy Solutions said, "There is no way Bulgaria can pay both the claim and let South Stream happen."
The dispute has led to a delay in a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was supposed to be present in Sofia on November 9 for the signing of the South Stream papers.  Instead, Putin has postponed his trip until December, possibly signalling his unhappiness with Bulgaria's recalcitrance.
Meanwhile, in September 2012 the European Union criticized Bulgaria for  supporting South Stream while lacking sufficient commitment to the EU's version of a Southern Energy Corridor.  The EU's concern was that South Stream only diversifies supply routes from Russia, but does not diversify the ultimate, Russian source of supply.  "Bulgaria needs to complete the ongoing investment projects on gas interconnectors with Romania, Serbia and Greece, and make reverse flows possible on its interconnector with Turkey...Bulgaria also needs to play a more proactive part in opening up the Southern Gas Corridor, which has the potential to diversify supply sources," said a leaked document.
The Bulgarian Prime Minister was non-plussed.  In an interview with Euronews, Borisov said he was commited to the European vision.  "It is very important that the Turkish Tanap-pipeline reaches Bulgaria and that Nabucco-West and the South East Europe Pipeline move closer to Europe...Regarding the Nabucco project, Bulgaria has done all it can:  the parliament approved its construction.  We have signed all the documents that are required and we can start construction work tomorrow if necessary.  I am looking forward to the launch of the Nabucco project."
Despite any agreement with Nabucco, however, as of 30 September 2012 there was no agreement between Bulgartransgaz and Turkey's Botas to connect with the Turkish pipeline network.  Without such a connection, any discussion of Tanap or Nabucco is moot.  To give the country some negotiating room, Bularia delayed its plans one year to connect its gas network with neighboring Balkan countries.  Bulgartransgaz announced the connection would take place in 2014, instead of the originally-planned 2013.