SERBIA WILL PROBABLY MANTAIN OIL MONOPOLY. (Probabilmente la Serbia manterrà il monopolio petrolifero)

Private oil traders want to conclude an agreement with Naftna industrija Srbije for the period of three years, according to which they would buy oil products exclusively from NIS. Those who are going to import oil products are going to face problems and limitations in terms of the necessary infrastructure and fuel storage space. It therefore seems that some sort of monopoly is going to continue after 2011 as well, because NIS and small private oil traders own in total almost 1000 filling stations, out of 1200 stations in Serbia.

The only encouraging news is that both sides, provided that they conclude this agreement, will have to report it to the Commission for the Protection of Competition and obtain its consent. Dijana Markovic‐Bajalovic, the President of the Commission, said that it all depends on whether or not this agreement could have negative impact on the competition.

“We would have to look into the matter, because at the moment we are not familiar with the details and we don’t know whether NIS and the small private oil traders actually represent 80 percent of the market or not. The Commission is competent to decide whether to approve or disapprove this agreement,” said Dijana Markovic‐Bajalovic.

The regulation of the Serbian Government, banning the import of oil derivatives, has been introduced to protect NIS from the competition and to give the refineries in Pancevo and Novi Sad time to carry out the maintenance, repair and modernisation works and to introduce the European standards in their fuel production. This regulation expires on 1 January 2011.


TOO MANY PIPELINES. (Troppe pipeline)

Europe may not be able to sustain all its proposed gas supply pipelines but will need to build at least some soon to ensure security of supply in the latter half of this decade.

Scarred by the Russia-Ukraine gas row of 2009, which cut about a fifth of Europe's supply in mid winter, major European gas consumers plan many pipelines to promising producing regions in central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.

With China competing to woo producers, Europe will likely struggle to secure enough gas to fill all the new connections and would be unable to use it all if they do get filled.

"If every project that is discussed is built then there will be way too much supply, so I think the best projects will be developed and marginal ones delayed, or not built," said Graham Freedman, a senior analyst at UK consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

"But I don't think anybody doubts the fact that Europe is going to need more gas because domestic production is falling. It is going to be an importer for many years to come," he said.

Wood Mackenzie forecasts that gas demand in the European Union, Turkey and former Yugoslav states could rise from 551 bcm in 2010 to 653 billion cubic metres in 2020.

Under what it says is a bullish demand scenario, this would leave a supply shortfall of 125 bcm by the end of the decade unless far more is produced at home or brought in from overseas.

But if all major new pipelines were built and filled to capacity, gas flows to Europe by 2020 could far outstrip demand.

Since the Russia crisis, Europe has been comfortably supplied with gas for power generation, heating and industry through existing pipelines and an increasing number of liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers. The Medgaz link from Algeria to Spain could further increase supplies into the Iberian Peninisula by 8 bcm/year, if the repeatedly delayed pipeline opens this winter.

The 55 bcm/year Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea is expected to bring more Russian gas to western Europe, bypassing Ukraine by the end of next year.

Russia is pushing on with its South Stream project to bring up to another 63 bcm under the Black Sea via the Balkans.

The European Union is also championing the 31 bcm alternative Nabucco plan that would bring Caspian and Middle East gas via Turkey, excluding Russia.

But Italy also hopes that its projects TAP and ITGI for around 10 bcm capacity each can compete for mainly Caspian gas market share with South Stream and Nabucco, giving it more options via the "Southern Corridor" to Europe.

In all, the maximum capacity of these pipelines, some of which were conceived prior to the economic crisis which brought a gas price slump, adds up to 177 bcm to Europe's supply.

Pipeline supplies would also face competition from liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has become much more readily available because of a surge in North American shale gas production, with unconventional gas finds in Europe posing another threat to both types of external supplier.

"Some projects make sense from a security of supply perspective, because of the diversification of gas sources that they would bring," said Nigel Harris of UK consultancy Kingston Energy. "But with plenty of gas available from existing sources, there's no commercial benefit from diversification."

Nord Stream and South Stream are just additional routes for Russian-controlled gas flows, he said, while alternative sources from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran remain uncertain.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) thinks global gas demand may recover from 2011, but it still expects supply to outstrip demand until 2020..

Some gas suppliers are more optimistic, pointing to buoyant demand in the Middle East, China and India which could leave less gas for Europe. Phillipe Boisseau, president of France's Total Gas & Power, told the recent European Autumn Gas Conference in Berlin that the "supply bubble will disappear in three years."

Speakers agreed that current gas prices in consuming countries would not support all Europe's proposed supply lines, although they expect demand for power generation to contine to rise as Europe looks to back up its increasing wind power capacity with gas-fired plants.
(FuturesPros.com via Reuters)


BULGARIAN MAJORITY. (Maggioranza bulgara)

Russia and Bulgaria signed on Saturday accords to push ahead with the South Stream natural gas pipeline aimed to deliver gas to central and south Europe and cement Moscow's hold on European energy supplies.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Bulgarian counterpart Boiko Borisov attended the signing of accords to set up a joint venture for the Bulgarian section of the project aimed at shipping Russian gas under the Black Sea to Europe.

'Today, a shareholder accord and a charter of the joint venture were signed. By doing this, we made one more serious step towards implementation of mutual agreements,' Putin told a news conference in Sofia where he arrived on a working visit.

The South Stream pipeline, controlled by Gazprom and Italy's ENI is planned to transport up to 63 billion cubic meters of gas to central and south Europe, bypassing countries such as Ukraine, at the end of 2015.

The link, in which French EDF is set to get a stake of no less than 10 percent, is a rival to the European Union-backed Nabucco pipeline, designed to bring gas from central Asia and the Middle East and reduce Europe's dependence on Russian deliveries.

Russia, the world's largest energy exporter, supplies Europe with a quarter of its gas needs. Analysts estimate European demand for Russian gas could rise to 30 percent by 2030.

Brussels and Moscow have been competing to sign up potential countries and suppliers for their projects.
The European Union member Bulgaria supports both projects, which are planned to run through its territory and has expressed concerns over delays in the Nabucco pipeline development.

'We are also working on the Nabucco pipeline with the same speed ... Bulgaria's interest is to transit gas through both pipelines,' Borisov told reporters.

His government, which put on review all Russian-backed energy projects last July, pledged to speed up work on South Stream after Gazprom promised to lower gas prices for Bulgaria, almost fully dependent on Russian gas supplies.

The Balkan country agreed to further accelerate work on the project in October, when Gazprom indicated South Stream could bypass it and run through Romania.

South Stream has also secured backing from Austria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia.

Gazprom and state-controlled Bulgarian Energy Holding, which will have 50/50 stakes in the new venture, have already opened a tender to seek contractors for a feasibility study for the Bulgarian section, estimated to cost $835 million.

Bulgaria secures about 70 percent of its energy needs through imports. It gets almost all of its gas from Gazprom, its only nuclear power plant Kozloduy is Soviet-made and its only operational oil refinery is owned by Russia's LUKOIL.

Putin said LUKOIL was set to invest up to $2 billion more in its Bourgas-based oil refinery, Lukoil Neftochim.
Bulgaria and Russia also discussed the Belene nuclear power plant project, which Sofia had also put on hold due to a lack of funding and strategic partners.

Sofia has said it will push ahead with the 2,000 megawatt plant, for which it has contracted Russia's state Atomstroyexport, only if backed by strategic European investors.

Borisov has indicated Bulgaria is close to finding a partner in Germany for Belene, estimated to cost over 7 billion euros.

Bulgaria's warming towards the projects has irked Washington and Brussels which are encouraging Bulgaria to lessen its heavy energy dependence on Russia.

Belene froze last November, when German energy giant RWE , which had agreed on a 49 percent stake, pulled out.

Sofia wants to build Belene so as not to lose hundreds of millions of euros it has already invested and to avoid paying hefty compensation to the Russian contractor, Atomstroyexport.
(XE, via Reuters)


ALL AT THE ZAR COURT. (Tutti alla corte dello zar)

Alcune compagnie energetiche tedesche hanno espresso il desiderio di partecipare al progetto South Stream. E’ quanto emerge dall’incontro Berlusconi-Putin di domenica scorsa. Ecco che le ali del Nabucco sono sempre meno dorate e, se le cose continueranno per questa china, il progetto energetico europeo non andrà lontano. Nabucco è infatti il nome dato al gasdotto che dal mar Caspio dovrebbe rifornire i Balcani fino all’Italia e all’Austria. Lo scopo della sua costruzione è eminentemente geopolitico: estendere l’influenza “occidentale” sui Balcani e sul Caucaso. La sua progettazione è precedente all’adesione all’Unione Europea dei Balcani orientali e si profila quale strumento di persuasione a restare in orbita europea per i Paesi che vedono procedere a rilento il loro percorso di integrazione. Nabucco nasce come concorrente del South Stream russo poiché, si ragionò giustamente, dipendere dalla Russia nel settore dei rifornimenti energetici significherebbe perdere larghe fette di sovranità: come criticare la diplomazia di Mosca nel campo dei diritti umani se dal Cremlino controllano i rubinetti del gas? Come osteggiare la politica estera di Mosca, le guerre in Cecenia e in Georgia, l’assalto all’Artico, le ingerenze in Ucraina, se si diventa servi del gas russo? E ancora: come affermare l’autonomia dell’Unione di fronte a un duplice vassallaggio, militare-americano da un lato e russo-energetico dall’altro?
Ma sul Nabucco si è investito poco e male. L’Italia e l’Eni sono state le prime a capire che non c’era di che ingrassarsi col progetto europeo e si son subito vendute al “rivale” russo. Eni e Gazprom diventano così partners per la costruzione del South Stream con tanti saluti all’europeo Nabucco. L’Italia, che con difficoltà si annovera tra le democrazie compiute, predilige fare affari con Putin e Gheddafi. La torta russa piace non solo agli italiani, ecco che la Edf (Electricité de France) entra nella joint-venture con Gazprom ed Eni. Lo scorso giugno 2010 Nicolas Sarkozy vola a San Pietroburgo alla corte dello zar per sottoscrivere l’affare.

Ora anche i tedeschi vogliono partecipare all’abbuffata. “Benone” esclama Berlusconi in visita presso l’amico Putin, in questo modo sarà possibile riscuotere l’interesse dell’Unione Europea finora rimasta fredda nei confronti del South Stream. I tedeschi, va detto, già sono partner di Gazprom per la costruzione del gasdotto North Stream, quello che aggira repubbliche baltiche e Polonia (ree di scarso amore verso lo zar) e va dritto in Germania; quello sottoscritto a inizio anni Duemila dall’allora cancelliere Schroeder, attratto dall’oro azzurro russo, poi divenuto dirigente Gazprom e responsabile proprio del consorzio North Stream; quello per cui in Polonia si stracciano le vesti gridando a un nuovo patto Molotov-Ribbentrop.

Rumors indicano nella Basf il nome dell’azienda energetica tedesca pronta a unirsi ai tre moschettieri Gazprom, Eni, Edf. Un’ulteriore mazzata al progetto Nabucco per il quale la Banca europea per gli Investimenti (Bei) e quella per la Ricostruzione e Sviluppo (Bers) hanno appena stanziato altri 4 miliardi di euro, segno che l’affrancamento energetico dell’Europa dalla Russia è considerato prioritario da Bruxelles che si trova a dover gestire tre serpi in seno assai velenose.

Una nota finale: il Nabucco parte dall’Iran, via Tabriz ed Erzurum. Proprio ad Erzurum raccoglie il braccio che s’avvia da Baku e passa per Tiblisi. Poi va verso Ankara, Istanbul e l’Europa. Il governo italiano si è sempre mostrato molto duro nei confronti del regime degli Ayatollah, ai limiti dell’ottusità, e si è detto favorevole all’intervento militare a stelle e strisce mentre, per ragioni che dopo questo lungo discorso parranno ovvie, non ha mai detto “beh” sul massacro in Cecenia.

I partners del Nabucco, inoltre, stanno tutti cambiando casacca: L’Azerbaijan si è vincolato con Mosca, e ben poco della sua produzione resterà a Bruxelles, ma il Cremlino ha promesso protezione e denari in quantità al regime di Baku. Il Turkmenistan, altra dittatura, è da pochissimo entrata in affari con Eni e Gazprom e punta a rifornire la Cina più che l’Europa.
L’Iran -grazie anche all’intervento americano- è assai indietro nello sviluppo dei suoi giacimenti. Ecco allora che non resta che prendersi in faccia l’ironia di Putin: “Che Dio li aiuti -ha dichiarato- il Nabucco è un tubo vuoto e il consorzio che lo sta sviluppando (l’austriaca Omw, l’ungherese Mol, la rumena Transgaz, la Bulgargas, la tedesca Rwe e la turca Botas. ndr) non fornirà nemmeno un metro cubo di gas fino al 2018 mentre fra un anno il South Stream sarà pronto”. Con buona pace della democrazia europea.
(East Journal)


UNCOVERING BARENTS SEA. (Scoperchiando il Mare di Barents)

Talking to journalists this week, Minister Trutnev called the Russian-Norwegian delimitation of the Barents Sea as “a truly historical event for the development of Russian geology”. –We get the chance to study, and then hopefully exploit, resources estimated to tens of billions tons of oil equivalents, RIA Novosti reports.

He also stressed that Russia is obliged to develop trans-border resources jointly with Norway, Oilru.com reports.

Read also: Norway and Russia sign maritime delimitation agreement

As previously reported, Trutnev last week confirmed that Statoil will be given exclusive rights as Norwegian partner in all the transborder projects. Other foreign companies will have to negotiate with the parts to get stakes, he underlined.

The deal signed last week in Murmansk could thus give Russia a new oil and gas province, Trutnev says. He believes that prospects are big both on the Russian and Norwegian side of the border.

-There are up to ten structures which we believe can be adhered to the category of “huge” and “unique”, the Russian minister said, RIA Novosti reports. He stressed that exploration in the area can start only after the ratification of the deal by the two countries’ legislative assemblies and that it subsequently will take “at least 5-7 years” to study the structures and a minimum of 12-15 years before production can start.

Trutnev doubts that the shelf will become the new hydrocarbon resource base for Russia by year 2020, an objective proclaimed by federal authorities. -This is a "very complicated and unrealistic task", he says, RBC.ru reports.

As previously reported, Trutnev was part of the Russian delegation attending the signing ceremony on the delimitation of the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. After the ceremony, Trutnev said that the Barents Sea could hide as much as “25 percent of hydrocarbon resources on Planet Earth”.


APR IS THE KEY. (L'area del Pacifico asiatico è la chiave)

Now that a project to boost capacity of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline up to 50 million tons per year (with prospects of further capacity increase up to 80 million tons) has been approved, Russia is gaining chances to expand its presence in the Asia-Pacific energy market.

Five more oil pumping stations are going to be added to already existing seven to supply even more Russian oil to Asia. Apart from this, several standby routes will be built via the rivers Angara, Lena and Aldan, as well as through the Ust-Ilimsk water reservoir.

Step-by-step extension of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline will speed up development of the whole regions of Siberia and the Russian Far East. The project will boost infrastructure development of the region’s oil transportation system. An expert Alexander Pasechnik comments.Russia has been successfully expanding its oil exports to the Asia-Pacific region, which is in no way a sensational decision. Expansion in exports had been planned in the original draft project. So, the capacity of 80 million tons per year is what we expect the next stage of the project’s implementation to bring us to.

The first leg of the pipeline was commissioned last December to link Taishet, a town in the Irkutsk region, and Skovorodino in the Amur region. From Skovorodino the oil is delivered further by railway to the Kozmino port in the Primorsk region.There also will be a spur to China, turning the whole system into a global network connecting deposits in Western and Eastern Siberia with the Pacific coast and providing diversification of the Russian energy resources. Until recently, Russia has exported its oil and gas mainly to Europe. But construction of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline paved Russia the way to the APR, now the epicenter of global economic growth.
As China is the leading energy consumer in the APR [Asia-Pacific Region, ndr], its demand for fuel is likely to increase twice in 10 years. India`s rapidly growing economy is causing growing demand for energy as well, while South Korea and Japan are expected to reach the same level by 2015. So, there is no doubt that the Russian oil will be in high demand in the region. Besides, delivering oil from Russia is quicker than from the Middle East, which is an extra point playing into our hands.

Meanwhile, China has asked Russia to supply some oil for testing the newly built Chinese leg of the oil pipeline. Under the 2009 bilateral agreements, China is expected to start receiving 15 million tons of Russian oil per year.
(The Voice of Russia)


BP RUSSIAN CONNECTION. (Il legame russo della BP)

Russia's top oil boss gave a cool nod of approval to BP Plc's new Chief Executive Bob Dudley on Wednesday, while praising his predecessor Tony Hayward, ousted over his handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Russia is a key part of BP's global operation, providing the company with a quarter of its reserves before the U.S. oil spill, so it is vital for Dudley to establish a good working relationship with the world's largest oil exporting nation.

"We are ... counting on your experience, Mr Dudley, and on new projects in our partnership," Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said, opening a meeting with both Dudley and Hayward, where he said Russia was "satisfied" with the new CEO.

"The field for cooperation is very broad."

It was the first visit to Russia for Dudley, once the CEO of BP's joint venture in Russia, since he was forced out of the country in a fierce dispute with a quartet of billionaires who accused him of running the 50-50 venture like a BP subsidiary.

"And now Mr Dudley is back!" Sechin exclaimed with a laugh.

At the headquarters of Russia's top oil producer, Rosneft, where Sechin is chairman, Hayward led the way into the meeting and greeted the deputy prime minister with an embrace and a formal kiss on the cheek.

Sechin, a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said Putin asked him to "say hello" to both Dudley and Hayward.
Hayward, who acceded to a peace deal with the Russian shareholders, which was chalked up as a loss for BP, will take a seat on the board of the Russia venture, TNK-BP.

"The fact that you will continue to work on the board of TNK-BP will be a help to Mr Dudley and to us," Sechin said.

"And who knows? Maybe there could be other offers in the future."

As the meeting opened in the presence of journalists, there was no mention of potential asset sales to pay for the damage from the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, the world's largest accidental marine oil spill.

But analysts said they were likely on the agenda for Dudley's one-day trip to Russia as the company declared progress plugging the well.

Industry sources said he also met BP's Russian partners in TNK-BP and with Sergei Bogdanchikov, the CEO of top Russian oil producer Rosneft.

BP, which took a $32.2 billion charge related to the spill in its results last week, has said it will sell $25 billion to $30 billion of assets to pay for the disaster.

"What we can be sure of is that Russia has a specific agenda, i.e. a wish list, and will take full advantage of BP's weakened state to press that," Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Russian brokerage Uralsib, said in an e-mailed note.

BP owns 1.2 percent of Rosneft as well as its 50 percent stake in TNK-BP.

"I want to reassure you BP is continuing its commitment to Russia," Hayward told Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, in a meeting with incoming CEO Bob Dudley. Dudley fled Russia in 2008 as BP battled its local partners for control of their 50-50 venture TNK-BP.

Hayward said he remained personally committed to working in Russia's oil and gas sector, but Dudley was well placed to continue the relationship as CEO.

TNK-BP has said it may buy BP's Venezuelan assets and media reports have suggested BP is more likely to sell assets to Russian companies than divest its holdings here.

Earlier this week a Rosneft official denied newspaper reports that the Russian producer was in talks to buy BP's stake in a German refinery Gelsenkirchen, a joint venture with Venezuela's PDVSA and a network of German petrol stations.

The sides must also decide the fate of the giant undeveloped Siberian Kovykta gas deposit that was slated for sale to Gazprom in a deal that was never finalized.

"If BP is going to be squeezed more and more in the U.S., as recent reports suggest "then its Russian assets will become an even more important part of its future," Weafer added.
(Abc News)



A major reason for the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was the building of a pipeline through the country that would take natural gas from Turkmenistan to India and Pakistan. Canada and the other 44 Western countries occupying Afghanistan are supporting this U.S. objective by bolstering Washington’s military position in the country.

Turkmenistan, which borders Afghanistan, contains the fourth largest reserves of natural gas in the world. The U.S. has been trying to set up the pipeline for a decade, having first negotiated the venture with the ousted Taliban government. Two months after these negotiations broke down, Washington overthrew the Taliban in October 2001 when it invaded Afghanistan.

Since then, the U.S. has persuaded India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan to sign an agreement aimed at constructing the pipeline, but the war in Afghanistan and the U.S.’s failure to defeat the Taliban stalled actual work on this project. Washington’s occupation of Afghanistan and pipeline plans are part of its strategy to gain control of Central Asia’s and the Caspian Sea area’s energy riches and divert them away from Russia, China, and Iran.

As Richard Boucher, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, stated in September 2007: “One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan so it can become a conduit and hub between South and Central Asia so that energy can flow to the south… and so that the countries of Central Asia are no longer bottled up between the two enormous powers of China and Russia, but rather that they have outlets to the south as well as to the north and the east and the west.”

However, as the Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar put it in an article for Asia Times, “The United States' pipeline diplomacy in the Caspian, which strove to bypass Russia, elbow out China and isolate Iran, has foundered.”
Recently, the U.S.’s Turkmen-Afghan pipeline plans have suffered what appears to be a fatal blow. On January 6, Turkmenistan committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia, and Iran with the inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran (DSK) pipeline which connects Iran's northern Caspian area with Turkmenistan.

As Bhadrakumar explains, Turkmenistan “has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing.” The operation of the DSK pipeline, along with the launching of another one between China and Turkmenistan in December 2009, has “virtually redrawn the energy map of Eurasia and the Caspian,” he maintains. “We are witnessing a new pattern of energy cooperation at the regional level that dispenses with Big Oil [private Western multinational oil companies]. Russia traditionally takes the lead. China and Iran follow the example. Russia, Iran, and Turkmenistan hold, respectively, the world's largest, second-largest, and fourth-largest gas reserves. And China will be consumer par excellence in this century. The matter is of profound consequence to U.S. global strategy.”

Bhadrakumar has served in diplomatic posts for India in the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Russia and Turkmenistan have also agreed to build an east-west pipeline connecting all of the latter’s gas fields to one network so that the pipelines going to Russia, Iran, and China can take gas from any of the fields. (See the accompanying map for the routes of these new and proposed pipelines.)

Three weeks before the opening of the DSK pipeline, China and Turkmenistan inaugurated a major natural gas pipeline between the two countries. The presidents of China, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan attended the opening ceremony of the 1,833-kilometre pipeline on December 14, 2009. The pipeline will transport natural gas from the Saman-Depe field in eastern Turkmenistan through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to China’s Xinjiang province, from where it will go to 14 Chinese provinces and cities. By 2012, the pipeline will deliver 40 billion cubic metres of gas per year, which is more than half of China’s present gas consumption.

Chinese President Hu Jintao described the pipeline as “another platform for collaboration and cooperation” between China and Central Asia. In return for access to Central Asian gas, China is building infrastructure and giving cheap loans to the area’s republics. According to John Chan, writing on the World Socialist Website: “Beijing’s broader aim is to bring the region within its own political and strategic orbit.”

Turkmenistan President Berdymukhamedov declared that the pipeline has “not only commercial and economic value. It is also political,” and will become “a major contributing factor to security in Asia”.

Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov added: “China, through its wise and farsighted policy, has become one of the key guarantors of global security.”

As Chan puts it, “The opening of a major Chinese pipeline from Turkmenistan alters the Central Asian energy equation. The Financial Times commented last week that the pipeline “deals a blow to the European Union’s plans to win Turkmen supplies for the planned Nabucco pipeline.”
This pipeline is the U.S.’s and E.U.’s attempt at breaking Russia’s dominant role as the leading energy supplier to Europe. Nabucco depends mainly on getting gas from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. However, Russia now wants to double its consumption of Azerbaijani gas, and Iran is also becoming a consumer of this gas, further reducing supplies for Nabucco.
In December 2009, Azerbaijan signed an agreement to deliver gas to Iran through the 1,400km Kazi-Magomed-Astara pipeline. Russia's South Stream and North Stream pipelines (the latter’s construction starts in Spring 2010), will supply gas to northern and southern Europe, ensuring Moscow’s continued dominance of energy supplies to Europe.
As Bhadrakumar points out, the DSK pipeline shows that U.S. efforts to demonize, isolate, and terrorize Iran have failed miserably. In open defiance of U.S. policy, President Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan is busy creating “a new economic axis” with Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whom he considers a valuable partner.

Washington’s and the West’s show of force in Afghanistan has also failed to impress Berdymukhammedov, who is giving all of his country’s natural gas to Russia, China, and Iran. These countries are not currently engaged in imperialist military occupation of another nation. All they had to do to get Turkmenistan’s gas was to offer it a decent economic deal. So, while the West kills thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan and ravages both countries, Russia, China and Iran are acquiring the crucial energy riches of Central Asia and the Caspian area without firing a shot.

Russian dominance of Central Asia was further cemented by the recent overthrow of the pro-U.S. government in Kyrgyzstan and its replacement by a pro-Moscow regime. The new government has told Washington that it can no longer use the Manas airbase, which is the main transshipment point for American supplies to Afghanistan.

In light of such major Western energy-related defeats, the continuing occupation of Afghanistan by 46 Western nations must have some other purpose. If their military venture were mainly economic — if they simply wanted greater access to Central Asia’s resources — why did they not offer the region’s countries acceptable prices for them, just as Russia, China, and Iran are doing?

The answer perhaps lies in a memorable remark by the great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said: “At the heart of the Western Idea is imperialism.”

The West did not become rich by offering resource-endowed countries fair and mutually beneficial economic deals. It became rich by subjecting countries in the Global South to 500 years of genocide and plunder through colonialism, neocolonialism, and the endless wars these aggressive actions entail.

The U.S. and its allies do not seem to realize that the dark age of “might-is-right” imperialism is coming to an end. Russia, China, India, and Iran are not countries that can be subdued by displays of military aggression in neighbouring nations. The continuing futile occupation of Afghanistan reflects the failure of the West’s political and military strategists to face this new geopolitical reality.

What possible threat could a financially and politically crippled West — a coalition that can’t even defeat the Taliban after nine years — pose to nuclear-armed Russia, China, and India? Countries like these are busy creating a post-imperial age in which aggression and occupation are not required to secure needed resources.

They are leaving the decadent West in the dust of history.


THE THIRD ELEMENT. (Il terzo elemento)

The White Stream Pipeline Company is considering plans to build a gas pipeline linking Azerbaijan and Georgia.

According to British White Stream Pipeline Company Chairman Roberto Pirani, the proposed pipeline would transport gas from the Sangachal terminal near Baku in Azerbaijan to the Georgian port of Supsa.

The Sangachal–Supsa pipeline would provide an extension to the White Stream Pipeline currently in planning, which will transport natural gas from the Caspian Region to markets in Central and Eastern Europe.

Conceived in 2005, the White Stream project is intended to develop the Southern energy corridor, transporting gas from countries in the Caspian Region via Georgia directly to countries on the Western side of the Black Sea, such as Romania and Ukraine. The pipelines will cross the Black Sea in water depths in excess of 2,000 m.

Under the new plans, the project will also be linked in to gas supplies in Azerbaijan. The Sangachal terminal is currently supplied with gas from the Azerbaijani offshore field of Shah Deniz.

The White Stream project will be developed in stages and it is anticipated that at full completion will have two branches, one connecting Georgia to Romania through two parallel subsea pipelines, with an offshore length of approximately 1,100 km and the other connecting Georgia to the Ukrainian gas network also with two parallel pipelines an offshore length of 620 km.
The first White Stream Pipeline, expected to commence construction in 2012, will have a capacity of approximately 8 Bcm/a and is due for completion in 2015. During the subsequent years the other three subsea pipelines will be constructed and will take the overall capacity of the system to approximately 32 Bcm/a. A 430 km subsea connection between Crimea and Romania is also being considered.

The Southern energy corridor also includes [1) ndr] the Nabucco Turkey –Greece–Italy (TGI) Pipeline and [2) ndr] the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
(Pipelines International)


10 ME, 10 YOU (10 io, 10 te)

Russian and Italy will each give a 10% stake in the South Stream pipeline to France's EDF , Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said today.

"We will do it concurrently - us and the Italians, 10% each," Putin told reporters on a visit to Ukraine which followed a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy.

EDF is set to get a 20% stake in the South Stream gas pipeline designed to bring Russian gas to Europe, with work on the project due to start in the first half of 2012, Putin and Berlusconi said today.

Separately, Putin said Russia's budget will lose $3 billion this year and $4 billion in 2011 as a result of agreeing last week to a 30% cut in the price of its gas supplies to Ukraine.

"In essence it will mean an increase in the budget deficit for us," he said. "These are serious parameters, but we will manage."

Russia had expected a deficit of 3 trillion roubles ($103 billion), or 6.8% of gross domestic product this year, Reuters reported today.


SEVASTOPOL PAID IN GAS? (Sevastopoli pagata in metano?)

The presidents of Ukraine and Russia agreed Wednesday to extend the stay of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol after the lease expires in 2017.

The move is among the strongest signs since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych took power in February that he will steer away from his pro-Western predecessor's drive to shed Russia's influence.

It also is likely to boost Yanukovych's standing at home by taking some pressure off Ukraine's beleaguered economy. The agreement includes Russia giving Ukraine steep discounts for the natural gas on which its industries depend.

Ukraine has been hit harder by the global downturn than many other European countries, and it has been eager to get discounts for Russian gas.

For years, Ukraine bought Russian gas at well below market prices, but after Yushchenko took office and pledged to bring the country into NATO and the European Union, Russia repeatedly raised prices. Price disputes led to Russian gas cutoffs; the most severe, in early 2009, lasted two weeks and severely curtailed Russia's gas exports to Western Europe, most of which transit Ukraine.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the base's lease would receive a 25-year extension. Russia pays $90 million per year for the base. There was no word on any change under the new deal.

Ukrainian opposition figures quickly criticized the deal, saying the lease extension violated the constitution.

Ukraine's previous president, Viktor Yushchenko, had fought to kick the fleet out when its lease expired, calling it a hostile presence in Ukraine.
(Dallas News)


The smiles on the two president’s faces belied the hard work that had gone into making the deal happen. According to the Kommersant daily the negotiating teams, headed by Prime Ministers Vladimir Putin and Nikolai Azarov, and including on the Russian side Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, had been up all night finalizing the details of the agreement. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich were just going through the formalities.

But there is a good reason for the smiles and the attention to detail. The deal addresses three of the most sensitive issues in Russian-Ukrainian relations: the future of the Russian Baltic Fleet, gas supplies, and potential Ukrainian membership in NATO.

The Black Sea fleet will get to stay in Sevastopol, its historic and only really viable base, until 2042; that saves Russia money on building new naval facilities on its own Black Sea coast, but it also gives it a “political-strategic” victory, said Volodymyr Fesenko, the head of the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies in Kiev. “Russia not only preserves a military presence in the Black Sea basin and on Ukrainian territory, but also has a factor of influence on external security policy and internal affairs in Ukraine,” he said.

According to some commentators, including the Kommersant daily, the jewel in the crown of that influence is that since NATO membership rules forbid the presence of non-alliance military bases on members’ territory, the agreement effectively puts a 30-year freeze on Ukraine’s aspirations to join the North Atlantic Alliance. NATO membership was a key policy of Yanukovich’s predecessor, former President Vitor Yushchenko, and the source of much of the ill feeling between his administration and Moscow.

The quid-pro-quo is a 30 percent discount on Russian gas deliveries, which, according to the deal, Ukraine will count as additional rent payments on the Sevastopol port. For Ukraine, that basically means a saving of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas (for the record, the discount will be $100 per 1,000 cubic meters when prices are over $330, and 30 percent for lower prices. Current prices are around $334. The discount will apply to 30 billion cubic meters in 2010, and 40 billion from 2011 onwards).

At yesterday’s press conference Yanukovich said that Ukraine would receive from Russia “a real investment of resources, specifically gas,” amounting to “around $40 billion dollars” over the next ten years. “And this bears the hallmarks of an economic victory for Ukraine,” said Fesenko.

It’s so far difficult to tell whether an economic win for Ukraine means a loss for Russia. In a note released Thursday morning Alfa Bank briefly pointed out that the gas discount would come at the expense of the Russian government, rather than Gazprom, but a spokesman for the bank refused to comment further, saying that the company’s Kiev and Moscow analysts were still working out the long-term implications.

Sergei Markov, a political scientist and State Duma Deputy for the United Russia faction, insisted the $40 billion cited by Yanukovich in yesterday’s press conference was an investment on which Russia expects a return. “Russia is likely to get a lot of profit from joint Russian-Ukrainian economic projects,” he said. “It’s a popular but crude mistake to suppose that Russia is paying for the Black Sea Fleet with gas.” (Markov also contests the widely held assumption that the deal will preclude NATO membership, pointing out that when the George W. Bush administration was cheerleading Yushchenko’s membership bid, U.S. officials had said the Russian base ought not to be a barrier).

According to Markov, the deal around the Black Sea Fleet is actually much simpler. “Russia saves hundreds of millions of dollars that it would otherwise have to spend building new naval bases in Novorossiysk and elsewhere,” he said. “The deal is, Ukraine lets us stay in Sevastopol, and we share the savings.”

Not everyone is so convinced by either the supposed Chinese wall between the two agreements, or the benefits of the deal. Russian opposition leader and one-time advisor to former Ukrainian president Yushchenko Boris Nemtsov told the Kommersant daily that “we could have demanded more for that money,” and warned darkly of the “Lukashenko factor,” – a reference to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has gained a reputation for taking Russian aid without reciprocation. (Others have also raised the Lukashenko parallel, but not always negatively. Victor Ozerov, the chairman of the Federation Council’s defense committee, told Kommersant that though the price was high, it was no less than Russia grants Belarus, “and Lukashenko threatens worse relations.” And Markov even suggested that improved relations with Kiev might strengthen Moscow’s hand in its troubled relations with Minsk).

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the deal is proving even more divisive. The presence of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is a subject that polarizes Ukrainian society, and it has unified the fractious opposition for the first time since the presidential elections, said Fesenko. “Two days ago Yushchenko, [former Prime Minister Yulia] Tymoshenko, [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk, [Vyacheslav] Kiriyenko, were all criticizing each other. Now they’re united in criticizing the agreement about the Black Sea Fleet,” he said. On Thursday afternoon it was reported that the Ukrainian Constitutional Court had approved the deal, but that doesn’t mean it will pass into law. “In the coming days we may see a parliamentary crisis as the opposition attempts to block ratification of the deal,” said Fesenko.
(Russia Profile)


NORD STREAM TIME. (L'ora del Nord Stream)

Construction of the controversial Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to western Europe under the Baltic Sea has been officially launched.

Gazprom holds 51% of Nord Stream, which will run from the Russian port of Vyborg to Germany's Greifswald.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the ceremony near Vyborg.

The project was given the go-ahead only in February amid fears that the pipeline could damage the Baltic Sea.

President Medvedev said at the ceremony that the pipeline "for the first time - which may be one of its main achievements - will ensure direct supplies of Russian gas to western Europe, bypassing transit territories".

The existing pipelines run from Russia to EU countries via Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

Russia provides up to 30% of the gas consumed in Europe, and many European countries have been keen to secure alternative energy supplies.

Critics have argued that European countries do not need more gas from Russia and that the project is too expensive.

But Gazprom deputy chief executive Alexander Medvedev said there was plenty of demand for the gas.

"All the gas volumes have either been contracted, or have been formalized in binding obligations," he told journalists.

Gas supplies from Russia to Europe have been threatened or disrupted in the past due to political and financial disputes between Moscow and its neighbours.

But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said at the ceremony: "This country [Russia] has been cooperating with European neighbours in the gas sector for over 40 years.

"This cooperation has stood the test of time to the full extent."

The ceremony was also attended by Nord Stream board chairman and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and European Commissioner for Energy
Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said on Wednesday that the first pipe had been laid under the sea.

The pipeline will be passing through Russian, Finnish, Swedish and German waters.

Last month, Nord Stream secured a 3.9bn-euro ($5.4bn; £3.5bn) fund to complete the first phase of the pipeline.

"Debt financing will cover 70% of the project costs while the remaining 30% will be provided by the project shareholders," said Paul Corcoran, financial director of Nord Stream AG.

German companies BASF-Wintershall and E.On Ruhrgas each own 20% of Nord Stream, while Gasunie of the Netherlands holds 9%.

Alexey Bulgakov from Troika Dialog investment bank pointed out that "Gazprom and its partners seem to have managed to raise funds at rather low interest rates."

The overall cost of the project, due for completion in 2012, is expected to reach 7.4bn euros.

Russia hopes to pump up to 55bn cubic metres of gas a year to EU countries through the pipeline.
Supporters of the project say that it will secure gas supplies from Russia to Europe.
But environmentalists argue that building the pipeline could lead to toxins lying on the sea bed being stirred up, as the Baltic sea is one of the most polluted in the world.

Finland had refused to give the green light to construct the pipeline, but finally agreed to it in February under the condition that ships laying the pipeline do not lay anchor in Finland's economic zone.

The final hurdle was overcome after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin assured Baltic leaders that the project was safe, as extensive research had been carried out into any environmental impact of the pipeline construction.

Apart from the Nord Stream, Russia has been planning another pipeline, the South Stream, which will run from southern Russia to Bulgaria under the Black Sea.

Meanwhile, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria last July signed an agreement to construct the long-planned 3,300km Nabucco natural gas pipeline.

It is expected to pump up to 31bn cubic metres of gas annually from the Caspian and the Middle East across Turkey and into Europe.


ENI'S BETRAYAL. (Il tradimento dell'Eni)

Europe should unite efforts to secure natural gas by linking the South Stream and Nabucco pipelines, officials at Italian energy giant ENI said.

European leaders should increase investments in infrastructure needed to secure "new sources" of natural gas from locations such as Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Africa, said Paolo Scaroni, the chief executive at Italian energy giant ENI.

Scaroni told delegates at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston that diversity was the key to the global energy sector of the future.

"In the decade ahead, and probably well beyond that, the world energy scene will be increasingly dominated by the consumption of gas and the supply of gas," he said.

Scaroni said European leaders would benefit from linking rival pipeline projects Nabucco and South Stream, Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency adds.

"If only all partners decided to link the two, we would reduce operating costs and increase efficiency," he said.

A troubled relationship between gas host nation Ukraine and supplier Russia prompted a race to diversify the European energy sector.

The European Commission recently allocated billions of dollars to fund the construction of the Nabucco gas pipeline to move non-Russian gas through Turkey.

Moscow, meanwhile, aims to avoid Ukrainian territory with its South Stream gas pipeline through the Balkans.

ENI is a major partner in the South Stream project along with Russian gas giant Gazprom.



Russia is not considering a proposal to combine part of its South Stream gas project with the Western-backed Nabucco pipeline, Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said on Monday.

"We are not discussing such issues," Shmatko said.

Shmatko commented on a recent suggestion by Italy's Eni SpA, Gazprom's partner in the South Stream gas pipeline project, that combining some sections of the pipelines would cut costs and boost profits.

Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni was reported to say at a Cambridge Energy Research Associates conference in Houston on Wednesday that if all the partners decided to merge the two pipelines for part of the route, "we would reduce investments, operational costs and increase overall returns."

Shmatko also said Russia welcomed Europe's desire to diversify gas supply routes but did not consider the South Stream and Nabucco as rival projects.

Both South Stream and Western-backed Nabucco aim to supply natural gas to Southern and Central Europe. The South Stream project is designed to deliver up to 63 billion cubic meters of Central Asian and Russian natural gas under the Black Sea while Nabucco is intended to pump 31 billion cu m of natural gas from the Caspian region via Turkey.

Russian experts, however, are skeptical about the prospects of merging the two pipelines as Nabucco was originally designed to cut Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas deliveries.

(RIA Novosti)


WELCOME TO SHTOKMAN. (Benvenuti a Shtokman)

Background information

The Shtokman gas and condensate field - one of the biggest offshore fields of its kind - was discovered in 1988. The field is located in the central part of the Russian sector of the Barents Sea shelf, about 600 km northeast of the city of Murmansk at sea depths varying from 320 to 340 m.

The field’s C1+C2 reserves account for 3.8 tcm of gas and circa 37 mln t of gas condensate.

The Sevmorneftegaz - a 100 percent Gazprom subsidiary - holds the license to the project. The operator company is the Shtokman Development Company, a Swiss-registered joint venture of Gazprom (51%), Total (25%) and StatoilHydro (24%).

The Shtokman gas will be shipped partly by pipeline, partly as LNG.

According to plans, the field is to be in production from year 2013.

The village of Teriberka located northeast of Murmansk City has been chosen as the main hub for Shtokman operations.
(Barents Observer)

Shtokman postponed 3 years

The Shtokman Development AG's board of directors today decided to postpone the development of the huge field in the Barents Sea with three years.

A press release from the company confirms that a final investment decision in the project's pipeline part will be taken in March 2011, while the decision on the LNG part will be taken before the end of 2011, newspaper Vedomosti reports.

About 50 percent of the 3,8 trillion cubic meter of Shtokman gas is planned developed as LNG, the remaining shipped through pipelines. The Shtokman field, located offshore about 600 km north of Murmansk, has long been a top priority project of Gazprom. It is to be developed by the Shtokman Development AG, a company controled by Gazprom (51%) in partnership with Total (25%) and Statoil (24%).

Both the Shtokman Development AG and Gazprom has long stressed that the project will be in operation from year 2013 (the pipeline part) and 2014 (the LNG part).

As BarentsObserver has reported, several experts have recently claimed that the huge Arctic project will face serious delays, and that it might even never be developed. Among them is Oddgeir Danielsen from the Norwegian Barents Secretariat. Now, the project will not be in production before 2016, at earliest.
(Barents Observer)

Disputed waters on the agenda

Just few weeks before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Oslo for a state visit, both Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Russia’s Vladimir Putin highlight the positive dynamics in talks over the disputed waters in the Barents Sea.

In their meeting in Helsinki yesterday, Stoltenberg and Putin confirmed the “good and productive atmosphere” in the talks over the delimitation of the Barents Sea. Both men agreed that a deal would significantly facilitate new joint projects in the two countries’ High North.

-I believe that if we manage to solve this issue, new fields of opportunities for extended economic cooperation will open, among them in the energy sector, Stoltenberg said in a press conference following the meeting, the Russian Government press service informs.

The meeting, which was held during the Baltic Sea Action Summit, lasted for about 45 minutes, and both the Shtokman field and the disputed zone were on the agenda. Both issues are highly inter-related. The huge Shtokman field is located not far from the disputed 155,000 square km zone, and is by the Norwegian side seen as a strategically key project.

In addition, the zone is believed to hide significant hydrocarbon resources. A deal on the zone delimitation and subsequent oil and gas developments in the area would have major possible impact on the Shtokman field development.

In a time with uncertainties in the world gas market, the opening of the disputed waters for oil and gas activities, would make the development of the Shtokman field more attractive. The Shtokman developers Gazprom, Total and Statoil would then not only be able to use field infrastructure in additional projects, but also have a significant chance to succeed in bids for other fields in the area.

Talking to newspaper Aftenposten after the meeting in Helsinki, Prime Minister Stoltenberg underlined that hydrocarbon developments in the Disputed Zone are impossible as long as there is no delimitation deal. He also highlighted that the oil and gas resources in the zone are located far closer to land than the Shtokman field and that they would therefore also be far easier to develop.

Talks between Norway and Russian on the delimitation of the 155,000 square kilometer zone in the Barents Sea have been going on for almost 40 years. While Norway wants to divide the zone based on a middle line principle, Russia insists that a sector line principle is applie
(Barents Observer)

Gazprom discussed Shtokman timeline

The development of the first development phase of the Shtokman project was on the agenda when Gazprom Deputy Aleksandr Ananenkov today met with owner representatives of the Shtokman Development AG.

The meeting, which took place in the Moscow headquarters of Gazprom, discussed preparations for the development of the project, and especially issues related to time schedules in the project’s first development phase, a press release from the company reads.

The company in early February announced that the project launch will be postponed from 2014 to 2016 and that a final investment decision will be made only in 2011, and not in 2010 as earlier planned.

However, as reported by BarentsObserver this week, representatives of project partner Total maintain that the project is on schedule after all. That was also stated earlier by Gazprom Deputy Aleksandr Medvedev
(Barents Observer)


NO MORE GAS CRISES? (Niente più crisi del gas?)

Ukraine's President-elect Viktor Yanukovych is expected to reach out to Russia as well as the West to safeguard Ukraine's position as an important energy transit country.

Yanukovych won Sunday's presidential election duel against Orange Revolution hero Yulia Tymoshenko and is now expected to reform the Ukrainian gas sector. Nearly 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe are sent through Ukraine, satisfying one-fifth of the continent's demand.

Alexander Rahr, an analyst with the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations, met Yanukovych at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Rahr said the Ukrainian leader told him about his plan to hand the Ukrainian gas network, which is in dire need of modernization, to a consortium comprised of Ukrainian transit companies [first of all, Naftogaz], Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom and Western European energy companies.

"Yanukovych does not want to give up Ukraine's role as an important transit hub," Rahr told UPI in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The balancing act is intended to please Russia as well as the West, after the confrontational course steered by Kiev and Moscow in the past years only damaged Ukraine's role as a reliable transit country.

Current President Viktor Yushchenko, who led Ukraine into two gas crises with Russia, was eliminated in the first round of voting.

In the aftermath of the first gas conflict between Ukraine and Russia, two major Russian-European gas pipeline projects -- Nord Stream in Germany and South Stream in southeastern Europe -- were jumpstarted in a bid to bypass Ukraine and deliver Russian gas unilaterally to Europe.

Yanukovych is eager to at least render insignificant South Stream, which is not as far advanced as Nord Stream, for which most of the pipes have already been delivered. Reports say South Stream could almost halve Ukraine's transit fees -- a disastrous outlook for the notoriously bankrupt country.

Rahr said the gas relations between Russia and Ukraine will thus remain highly political.

"Ukraine can't afford to pay the bills for Russian gas," which easily amount to $1 billion per month, Rahr said.

That's why Kiev is expected to please the Kremlin on other fronts, such as giving up plans to join NATO or allowing for the Russian Black Sea fleet to remain in Sevastopol.

"If that happens, then Ukraine will get the same price for gas as Belarus," which is on friendlier terms with Russia, and thus enjoys below-market prices.

Yet Yanukovych will also have to please the West to counter fears that he is turning his back on Europe.

While inviting European companies into the pipeline consortium, he is expected to further privatize the Ukrainian economy and include Western firms in that process.

"And he won't be able to question the plan to eventually join the European Union," Rahr told UPI. "That's where the Ukrainians want to go, because it's a well-functioning economic circle, and one that promises prosperity. In that regard, Russia is no alternative."
(Energy Daily)



Russia expanded its foothold on the Asian energy market with the click of a mouse Monday [28th December].

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pressed a button to get Siberian oil flowing into the first tanker for delivery to an Asian customer, in Hong Kong, from Russia’s Pacific coast. In addition to China, supplies will also target Japan and South Korea.

The ceremony completed four years of work to construct the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline and the Kozmino port, worth a combined 420 billion rubles ($14 billion) to ease the industry’s reliance on the European market.

“It’s a strategic project because it allows us to enter the completely new, growing and promising markets of the Asian-Pacific region,” Putin said at the launch. “It’s a great present to Russia for the New Year.”

The foray into the Asian oil market follows Russia’s arrival as a major supplier of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, for its eastern neighbors earlier this year. The Gazprom-led Sakhalin-2 project — with Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi as partners — started shipping the gas, chilled to a liquid for loading into tankers, from Russia’s offshore fields in the Pacific in February.

As it expands into new markets, Russia is keeping abreast of the global trend of diversification among both energy buyers and sellers, which will make the business more competitive worldwide, said Elena Shadrina, a visiting energy researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies.

“No supplier or consumer will have a dominant position,” she said by telephone from Oslo.

Europe is trying to offset its dependence on gas imports from Russia by looking to buy more from Africa, while Turkmenistan began exporting its gas to China earlier this month, ending Russia’s role as its only major buyer. Asia, in turn, has been seeking alternatives to supplies from the Middle East.

Russia’s progress in eastward expansion has been spectacular, defying doubts that the country has sufficient oil reserves and investment, Shadrina said.

“As little as five years ago, I heard skeptical attitudes from Japanese officials and analysts,” she said. “The tone has really changed now.”

The Kozmino port, near Vladivostok, cost $2 billion to build and has the capacity to handle 300,000 barrels of crude per day (15 million tons per year), with oil quality comparable to that of Middle Eastern blends now dominating the market.

Transneft, the state pipeline monopoly, spent another $12 billion to lay the 2,694-kilometer ESPO pipeline through east Siberian wilderness to connect the area’s greenfields, being developed by oil majors Rosneft, TNK-BP and Surgutneftegaz, to the railway station of Skovorodino. The link has the capacity to carry 30 million tons a year.

Arriving in Skovorodino, the crude is loaded onto trains to travel to the port by rail.

Transneft plans to start building the rest of the pipeline to Kozmino, which requires an estimated investment of $10 billion, next year and complete the work in 2014. The effort will bring the link’s total length to 4,794 kilometers, which is more than the distance from New York to Los Angeles.

When completed, the pipeline will carry eastward an annual 80 million tons of oil from Siberia, including 15 million tons to China through an additional spur. China has loaned $25 billion to Russia in exchange for oil deliveries over the next two decades. Kozmino will increase capacity to 600,000 barrels per day, or 30 million tons per year.

Seeking the huge investment for the remote east Siberian greenfields that are to feed the pipeline, Russia will likely ease access to these resources by foreign oil majors, said Shamil Yenikeyeff, a researcher at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. A law enacted last year allows the government to take away a field from a foreign company if it strikes large oil reserves there during exploration, a restriction that put off potential investors, such as Royal Dutch Shell.

Yenikeyeff said Russia’s emergence this year as an Asian energy power — while being a wise policy — displayed the country’s continuing reliance on oil and gas exports for economic prosperity.
“You may call this a new era,” he said, referring to the unlocking of new markets. “The question is: Does this mean that Russia will grow even more affected by the oil curse? If you look at the other industries, nothing is happening there.”

The first tanker’s crude that left Kozmino belongs to state-controlled Rosneft and represents a new oil blend named ESPO, after the pipeline. The low-sulphur, medium-heavy sweet blend ranks higher than Russia’s main export blend, Urals, but its quality is going to be unstable for a while as more producers pump their oil in the pipeline.

The price of the crude is tentatively based on the average monthly price of the Middle Eastern benchmark Dubai blend, with the option for traders to offer a discount or premium. Rosneft sold the first shipment to the Finnish trader IPP Oy at a premium of 50 cents.
(The Moscow Times)