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22/11/2006 | Russia: LUKoil's Bold Expansion Plan

Stratfor Staff

As the Kremlin tightens its grip on energy assets within Russia, Russian private oil company LUKoil said it will invest $27 billion by 2017 in foreign acquisitions.

 

LUKoil's goal is to become one of the world's largest energy companies. Because of technological limitations, LUKoil is focusing its efforts primarily in Central Asia and the Middle East, though it is looking beyond those regions in an effort to ensure its future in the energy industry regardless of what the Kremlin says.

LUKoil, Russia's largest private energy company, said Nov. 16 that it will invest $27 billion abroad by 2017 in hydrocarbon production and new acquisitions. LUKoil is by far at the forefront of the trend among Russian oil firms to seek growth opportunities beyond Russia, where operations, expansion and profits often are curtailed by state intervention. Because of the company's technological limitations, LUKoil is focusing its efforts in Central Asia and the Middle East. Meanwhile, however, it is eyeing more difficult projects elsewhere.

LUKoil (ConocoPhillips holds a 20 percent stake) is Russia's largest oil producer, with an expected production of 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd) for 2006. Though its production is based in Western Siberia, LUKoil has been generally successful in Russia and abroad -- and currently is developing 24 projects in 13 countries in Central Asia, the Middle East, South America and the United States. As crude prices increased over the past two years, LUKoil's investments also expanded. In 2004, the company constructed a deep-water, ice-free oil port in Murmansk capable of handling very large crude carriers (VLCCs), though it is not currently utilizing VLCCs. LUKoil also discovered six large deposits in the Caspian Sea with an estimated 1.6 billion barrels of crude. The company's production is carried out under some of the toughest conditions in Western Siberia, forcing workers to drill through permafrost and bear extreme winds and temperatures.

However, the Kremlin's campaign against foreign industries in Russia has moved to include LUKoil and its domestic assets. Russia's Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources threatened Oct. 13 to revoke 20 of Lukoil's production licenses in Western Siberia, citing environmental violations. The Kremlin also said it is looking into the company for possible failure to pay taxes on production.

Though just a warning for now, the pressure is on for LUKoil to follow Moscow's wishes. For one thing, state-run energy giant Gazprom has been pushing LUKoil for joint ventures in Western Siberia, but has said it also wants a majority in the ventures. In conceding to Gazprom's terms, LUKoil CEO Vagit Alekperov said Nov. 17, "Gazprom is our big brother. The big brother must have 51 percent."

LUKoil, however, is not taking such railroading lying down -- and is shifting more of its attention abroad. With the new announcement to invest a staggering $27 billion in international acquisitions -- compared with the $4 billion it invested over the last five years -- LUKoil is signaling not only its refusal to be subjected to Kremlin whims, but its determination to transform itself into one of the world's largest fully integrated energy companies.

Because of its technological shortcomings, LUKoil is primarily interested in Central Asia, Iran and Iraq. Alekperov said he will travel to Iraq within the next two months to renew the company's bids for projects that were first announced during the Saddam Hussein era. LUKoil wants to develop Iraq's West Qurna-2 deposit, which has estimated reserves of 20 billion barrels. Alekperov also recently returned from Iran, where LUKoil is interested in the contested Azadegan deposit. The National Iranian Oil Co. and Japan's Inpex were originally contracted to develop Azadegan, though Tehran is now looking for another foreign investor to take the majority of Inpex's shares following delays. LUKoil also is working with Norway's Norsk Hydro on three prospective oil sites in Iran's Anaran oil field.

In Central Asia, LUKoil signed an agreement to develop -- with Kazakhstan's KazMunaiGaz and Spain's Repsol -- the Zhambai oil field on Kazakhstan's Caspian shelf. It also will invest $2 billion to develop the Kandym-Khauzak-Shady deposit in Uzbekistan, which is expected to produce 11 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas annually by 2011. In Azerbaijan, LUKoil is part of a consortium that will begin producing 9.3 bcm of natural gas annually from the large Shah Deniz deposit.

Although LUKoil lacks the technology by itself to expand beyond the Middle East and Central Asia into areas that require more difficult work -- such as refining heavy crude or drilling in deep waters -- it nevertheless continues to forge ahead. It signed preliminary agreements to consider joint production with Petroleos de Venezuela in Venezuela's offshore Orinoco deposits. LUKoil also has proposed building refineries in Canada to take Venezuelan oil, though the crude is of an extremely heavy quality that is difficult to refine. For that project, LUKoil said it would rely on its shareholder, ConocoPhillips, for the necessary technology.

With help and technology from other companies, LUKoil seems like the ideal candidate to invest internationally. It is willing to invest to diversify its assets -- a very non-Russian trait -- and has been looking to future areas to expand its technology base. LUKoil has played by the rules in Russia in an effort to pacify the energy-focused government, but has failed to satisfy the Kremlin. Now LUKoil is shifting its intentions abroad to ensure its future in the energy industry.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 


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