“For those of you with children, I think of the LNG market like a toddler, and they suddenly go through this growth spurt in front of your eyes. This is what I think is going to happen to the LNG market over the next 4-5 years.”
Spencer Dale, Chief Economist at BP, gives a presentation on the company’s 2035 Energy Outlook, touching on the US, Russia, China, and more.
A year ago, Russian and Chinese delegations met on a crisp September day on the outskirts of the Russian city Yakutsk, which in the game of Risk, is the small territory wedged between Siberia and Kamchatka.
Gazprom employees from the Chayanda gas field donned cerulean blue flame-resistant jumpsuits, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and his counterpart Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli wore suits and black overcoats.
Orchestral music triumphantly played as the two men affixed their signatures to the freshly-welded ‘Power of Siberia’ pipeline, which officially began its construction on September 1, 2014. In Russia, where natural resources account for 18 percent of GDP, the signing of new pipelines is always a grandiose affair.
It was indeed a show. There were a number of traditional Republic of Yakutia dances performed, and a grand finale of ‘Katusha’, the famous Red Army hymn, was sung in both Russian and Chinese.
Though the Parker Brothers gave Yakutsk its own colored sovereignty in its boardgame, in modern Russia, the territory is in fact part of Siberia, and is situated so far northeast that it is closer to Alaska than it is to Moscow.
Putin travelled all this way to sign a piece of metal because the Eastern Siberia region will soon have to make up for the fast depleting resources in Western Siberia. It is currently the third largest gas producing region in Russia.
Gazprom estimates resources in Eastern Siberia and the Far East hold 52.4 trillion cubic meters in onshore reserves.
In the pipeline
The plan is to build a 3,968 km pipeline from Eastern Siberia to China’s populous eastern populations. If completed, it will be the world’s largest pipeline. Russia’s largest steel pipeline manufacturer, TMK, will provide building materials.
Natural gas would flow to China from the Chayandinskoye field in Yakutia, and the Kovyktinskoye and Chikanskoye fields in the Irkutsk Region.
If Rosneft is at some point granted permission to use the energy network, gas could also be pumped from the Vankor and Yurubcheno-Tokhomskoye fields, both of which Rosneft has offered shares to Chinese partners.
Even though CEO Alexei Miller was in Beijing last week, Gazprom did little to solidify its agreements to supply China with natural gas from Siberia, a deal initially agreed on in May 2014.
The timing couldn’t have been more important. Relations with Europe were withering away over US-led sanctions and political feuds over the territorial integrity of Ukraine escalated. The China deal in May 2014, which Putin himself said was “epochal” marked Russia’s first public step in its ‘pivot’ toward the east.
Construction costs of the Power of Siberia are estimated to be $55 billion, more than the company is even worth. Gazprom’s current market capitalization is $50 billion, a mere shell compared to the robust $365 billion value in May 2008. Cut off from western financiers after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Gazprom is trying to get China to put down capital to pay for the expensive pipeline project.
China only agreed to the 400 billion (2.4 trillion yuan) deal last May because Russia promised the Power of Siberia route, which will send gas to the overpopulated and coal-burning northeast region, instead of the western route it had been pushing for decades.
China has already begun construction on its section of the Power of Siberia, which will meet up with the Russian section in the city of Blagoveshchensk, a border town.
Russia is also trying to get China to agree to a cheaper western pipeline route, known as the ‘Altai’ pipeline, a much shorter pipeline that would send natural gas to the western province of Xinjiang instead.
If both pipes are completed, Russia will have the capacity to send 68 bcm to China, making it Russia’s biggest natural gas import client.
With talks currently at a deadlock, analysts believe Chinese and Russian leaders will resume discussions in 2016.
On September 4, Gazprom set up a joint venture with foreign partners (E.ON, Royal Dutch Shell, OMV, Wintershall, and Engie – formally EDF Suez) to build Nord Stream 2, which will supply an additional 55 billion cubic meters (bcm) of cubic gas to Germany, bringing the pipeline’s total capacity to 110 bcm, or about two-thirds of the total gas the EU imports from Russia. The cost will be about 1/5 that of Power of Siberia and is slated for completion in 2019.
The second distraction from China is the Turkish Stream, which is the reincarnation of the South Stream, and will deliver natural gas to central and southern Europe via Turkey and Greece. At this point, it doesn’t look like the grand 63 bcm capacity pipeline will come to fruition, but instead a single line that will deliver 15.75 bcm to Turkey.
For now, Gazprom is sticking to the gas game it knows best – Europe, which coincidentally accounts for 56 percent of the gas giant’s sales.
On June 17, 2015, Rosneft shareholders meeting is expected to approve the company’s credit agreements with the Russian Regional Development Bank, VTB and Gazprombank worth 9.9 trillion rubles in total, which is 2.5 times more than a year ago. Rosneft assures that the agreement doesn’t necessarily mean the company will immediately loan the whole amount and that 9.9 trillion rubles is just a total volume of treasury transactions. However, one shouldn’t take on trust Rosneft’s assurance – everyone in Russia knows what happens, when the company starts borrowing money. In December 2014, for instance, it resulted in significant ruble depreciation. By the way, in 2015 alone Rosneft will have to pay back around $16.35 billion to its creditors so they will have to keep borrowing.
But the most curious thing is a possible approval of these agreements at the annual shareholders meeting, rather than getting the credit itself. Who approves what and to whom? Will Igor Sechin be asking only himself? Will anyone ask Bob Dudley just for the sake of respect? “It’s an ordinary corporative procedure,” – says Rosneft, but it looks really strange: inspectee (Rosneft) and inspector (Rosneftegas) are represented by one person – Igor Ivanovich Sechin. In the first case he is president, chief executive and deputy chairman, in the second case he is a key board member. There is one more important person though – Larisa Kalanda, who is vise-president and deputy chief executive at Rosneft and, you probably won’t believe, interim general director at Rosneftegaz.
This weird interpenetration must be boggling the mind of BP’s representative in Rosneft Robert Dudley. However, no one at Rosneft seems to be caring about his opinion as well as about the company’s minority shareholders’ thoughts.
ExxonMobil wants to get back the money, which the company overpaid as profit tax within the Sakhalin-1 project, the Russian Kommersant newspaper reports. The amount sum is claimed to be dozens of billions rubles. According to Mikhail Krutikhin, partner at a Moscow-based consulting company, the parties can settle the dispute out of court.
On March 18, the Russian energy minister Alexander Novak met with the company’s management team. “During the meeting the two sides discussed issues concerning the Sakhalin-1 project, including export gas sales and tax regime”, the ministry’s press-service said. According to Kommersant, possible amendments to profit tax as well as returning billions of rubles to ExxonMobil as overpaid tax topped the agenda. From 2009 ExxonMobil left 35% of its profit in Russia, but since then the tax rate in the country has dropped to 20%. In case the two sides don’t find common ground the American company threatens to file a suit to the Stockholm Court of Arbitration.
“The company has several times raised this issue but it vanished in the Russian red tape. Obviously, the Russian side thought ExxonMobil would continue to overpay billions of rubles for the right to work in the country. But ExxonMobil thought otherwise,” said Mikhail Kritikhin, partner at the RusEnergy consulting company. The expert considers the company’s claims to the Russian government to be well justified and doesn’t give the Russian side many chances in case of arbitration in Stockholm.
“ExxonMobil needs to make benefit from its investment,” says Krutikhin. “They have lost around $1 billion in a joint shale project with Rosneft. The loss needs to be compensated at least partly by restoring tax justice. If the management let this opportunity slip, it will be regarded as a big failure by the company’s shareholders”.
The issue hasn’t been settled as yet, writes Kommersant. However, there is still a chance to find a compromise and fix it out of court.
“The Russian government could bargain better conditions by giving ExxonMobil additional opportunities,” explains Krutikhin. “They could lean on Gazprom so that the Russian state-owned gas giant allowed the American company to run gas through its gas pipeline, the Sakhalin-2 project, to the south. Currently they are not authorized to do that, but if the Russian government puts extra pressure on Gazprom the situation may get off the ground.” The expert believes such an opportunity is the main bargaining chip of the Russian side.
Krutikhin is certain that Rosneft and ExxonMobil will continue cooperation despite the current tax controversy and sanctions.
The Sakhalin-1 project has been functioning under PSA, ExxonMobil is the project operator and holds 30% of shares, Japanese Sodeco holds 30% of shares, Rosneft – 20%, Indian ONGC – 20%.