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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

First Exxon, then Shell, Now BP

Bloomberg reports that yet another domino has fallen in the Kremlin's all-out Neo-Soviet nationalization of Russian energy resources:

BP Plc's Russian venture, OAO TNK-BP Holding, may lose its permit to develop the $18 billion Kovykta natural-gas field in Siberia because of license and environmental violations, Russian prosecutors said.

Valery Pak, the head of TNK-BP unit OAO Rusia Petroleum, was summoned to the Prosecutor General's Office and ``officially warned'' his company must fix the problems or face losing its license in the Irkutsk region, according to a statement today posted on the prosecutor's Web site.

"We are developing the project in accordance with the license terms,'' Alexander Shadrin, a spokesman for TNK-BP, said today by phone from Moscow. "This week, we have started construction of the first stretch of a pipeline to supply gas to the local market'' in accordance with the license terms.

TNK-BP, Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA all face demands from Russia to cede some control of oil and gas fields to the state-controlled gas and oil companies, OAO Gazprom and OAO Rosneft. The foreign-led ventures have become anomalies in Russia as President Vladimir Putin increases state control over the energy industry.

Russia has previously threatened to revoke drilling licenses held by Rusia Petroleum for Kovykta, eastern Siberia's largest gas field, unless the venture comes to an agreement with Gazprom on the pace of the field's development.

Gazprom, which controls Russia's gas pipelines, opposed TNK- BP's plans to break its monopoly by supplying fuel directly to China or South Korea from the Kovykta, which holds 2 trillion cubic meters of gas, enough to power Asia for about six years. Gazprom, which produces a majority of Russia's gas, is developing a competing project to supply the fuel to the Irkutsk region.

Russia this month threatened to cancel Shell's permit to finish building pipelines and a plant to liquefy natural gas at the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project.

Rusia Petroleum must supply 9 billion cubic meters of gas to the local market starting from this year, according to the prosecutor's office statement.

The Kovykta project is in limbo because Russia's Natural Resources Ministry hasn't approved amendments TNK-BP submitted that would defer the start of full output to 2009, Anatoly Ledovskikh, the head of Russia's state agency for natural resource use, said May 31.

East Siberian Gas Co., equally owned by the Irkutsk region government and TNK-BP, planned to supply as much as 2.8 billion cubic meters of gas a year staring in 2010, East Siberian said last December.

The Associated Press added: "'I would see this as part of the pressure build on TNK-BP to consider restructuring the project to allow a greater role for one or other state companies,' said Chris Weafer, chief strategist for Alfa-Bank in Moscow. 'That's what we're headed for, these are all projects that were agreed by government before the current approach to strategic industries had been formalized.'"

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