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18/10/2006 | RUSSIA - Sunset for Shtokman?

Stratfor Staff

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said Oct. 9 that Russia's natural gas monopoly will not invite international companies to participate in the Shtokman natural gas project in the Barents Sea. Gazprom, however, lacks the technical expertise and financing needed to execute Shtokman -- hence the project is doomed. The decision is another example of the Kremlin attempting to use Russian energy resources to further Moscow's political aims.

 

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said Oct. 9 that Russia's natural gas monopoly will not invite international companies to participate in the Shtokman natural gas project in the Barents Sea. Miller told Russian television that Gazprom decided against offering 49 percent of Shtokman to any of five shortlisted international energy firms because the firms failed to offer suitable assets in exchange.

Gazprom lacks the technical expertise and financing needed to execute Shtokman, dooming the project. The decision is another example of the Kremlin attempting to use Russian energy resources to further Moscow's political aims.

Prospective partners for the $20 billion project were U.S. giants Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips, France's Total and Norwegian firms Norsk Hydro and Statoil.

Traditionally, Gazprom has asked its international partners to provide project financing and technical knowledge while it remains the majority stakeholder. This formula, however, has been less than successful, since Gazprom has yet to see a single natural gas project implemented along those lines. And Gazprom's terms on Shtokman were extremely demanding to the point of being unrealistic.

Gazprom sought stakes in existing profitable downstream projects in the United States and Europe in addition to its international partners' proprietary technology, all while retaining a majority stake in Shtokman. Furthermore, the foreign firms received no guarantee that they could export Shtokman's natural gas. This meant the firms could be stuck providing expensive natural gas to the Russian market at below-cost prices after having enabled Gazprom to better compete on the firms' home turf. The firms continued to negotiate, expecting Gazprom to compromise on a more reasonable deal. But their expectations proved false.

Such bullying from Gazprom is hardly new. The Shtokman announcement comes on the heels of pressure on Royal Dutch/Shell over its stake in the Sakhalin-2 project, and amid signs that Gazprom wants to buy out the Anglo-Russian TNK-BP venture. Russia has a firm policy of using oil and natural gas as a political tool against energy-importing states with which it has -- or might -- come into conflict, such as the tussle over Ukrainian imports of Russian natural gas.

But there is more at work here than Gazprom's corporate goals. The Russian state -- the primary shareholder in Gazprom -- regularly uses energy as a tool of foreign policy. As a major natural gas provider to EU states, Russia enjoys significant energy levers against European policies, and is becoming less and less shy about playing the energy card to further its interests in any arena, be it expanding NATO, muting international criticism of its human rights record, joining the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. or bolstering pro-Russian elements in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

But as Shtokman has now demonstrated, this strategy has limits. Using existing supply relationships as leverage works well. Dangling the possibility of new relationships -- such as those Shtokman could create -- does not exactly tantalize foreign firms.

Using a state industry as a policy tool has negative effects, as the energy nationalizations of the Arab world have clearly shown. The marriage of insufficient indigenous technology and hostility toward fair partnerships with outsiders inevitably results in second-rate production techniques, and with them a decline in long-term production. But this prospect does not seem to worry the Kremlin too much at the moment.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 


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