Gazprom

BRITAIN-POLITICS-GOVERNMENT

Amber Rudd  © Getty Images

Last week’s decision by the UK’s new energy secretary, Amber Rudd, to approve Centrica’s plans for a dramatic increase in gas imports from Gazprom has cast a cloud of uncertainty over Britain’s policy on sanctions against Russia. In recent months the UK, along with the US, has been one of the strongest advocates of tough sanctions. In Europe, opinion has been more equivocal and divided. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, called the Russian occupation of Ukraine “a criminal act” when she was in Moscow last weekend. Many in Germany and France, however, see sanctions as pointless. To them, Russia is a neighbour, difficult at times certainly, but a presence to be lived with. Ukraine on this view is of no strategic importance and its multiple problems stem from its own corruption. Now it seems that the UK has switched sides in this debate.

The first thing to be made clear is that Centrica has done nothing wrong. The company’s intention of doing business with Russia was signalled at the AGM three weeks ago when its chairman said that Russia would be a major supplier of gas to Europe for a long time to come. I don’t doubt that Centrica has got a very good deal. Having won approval so easily I wouldn’t be surprised if they do more business with Gazprom. Read more

One of the greatest mistakes in the analysis of what is happening in Ukraine is the view of Russia as a one man dictatorship. That is clearly not the case. Moscow is a complex political society with numerous powerful figures. They, rather than Russia’s passive democracy, determine who is in charge. Vladimir Putin has been a strong leader but his power is not absolute. The eternal truth is that all leaders lose power in the end and very few go voluntarily.

After nearly 15 years in office as President or Prime Minister he has already exceeded the normal lifespan of leadership. Actuarially he is living on borrowed time and is dependent on continued success. In the current situation the line between success and failure is very narrow and energy issues are at the heart of the judgment. Read more

The dispute over Ukraine has moved into a diplomatic phase and for the moment at least the prospect of a Russian advance into eastern Ukraine has receded. The consequences of what happened in the Crimea, however, continue to shape European policy making. The invasion provided a sharp reminder of Europe’s reliance on Russian gas – a degree of dependence which the EU will now reduce even if a settlement is agreed by the diplomats. It is quite possible that within two or three years European gas imports from Russia could be halved. Russia would be reduced to being one supplier among many in a world where gas-to-gas competition inexorably reduces prices. Read more

The rumours that Vladimir Putin is about to replace Aleksey Miller as the chief executive of Gazprom continue to swirl around the markets across Europe. As usual it is hard to know what is true and what is dreamt up by Mr Miller’s enemies. Removing Mr Miller would not, however, solve Gazprom’s problems. What the company really needs is a new strategy. What should it be. ? Read more

Pipeline will be laid on the bed of the Black Sea

Gazprom has been putting the final investment agreements in place for the South Stream project, clearing the way for construction of the 63bn cubic metres a year pipeline to Europe to begin next month. Never mind that demand for Russian gas in Europe is falling, or the $19bn cost of South Stream. The pipeline will help free Gazprom from dependence on Ukrainian transit pipelines and improve European energy security.

Gazprom and its foreign partners took a final investment decision on the 900km offshore section of South Stream at a meeting in Milan late on Wednesday. The pipeline will be laid on the bed of the Black Sea and will link southern Russia with the coast of Bulgaria.

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A tanker is filled at a Gazprom refinery. Getty

Could the conflict between Gazprom and the European Union become the antitrust case of the decade?

The answer is yes and the argument is spelt out in an excellent paper just published by the Centre for European Policy Studies.

The case could not only make legal history and provide a very timely reminder that the EU is alive and kicking, it could also transform the international gas market, pushing on the fall in prices already underway and undermining to the point of extinction the linkage between the prices of crude oil and natural gas. Read more

The announcement that Areva are to join with China’s Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Company to bid for new capacity in the UK represents a bold statement in favour of globalisation and against established judgments of national energy security by the UK government.

The traditional view has been that the UK’s strategic resources should be under the control of nationally controlled or “friendly” entities.   When BP’s privatisation in the 1980s failed in the face of a market downturn and more than 20 per cent of the shares were picked up by the Kuwaitis, Mrs Thatcher reacted vigorously and the Kuwaitis were forced to sell down.

The main concern has been Russia. Read more

Shares in EON have risen by 10 per cent over the last two weeks and have led a limited rally among Germany’s hard pressed utilities.  The deal reached after years of negotiation with Gazprom sets a precedent and puts a big question mark over the pricing structures and energy mix across the whole European electricity sector.

The scale of the price reduction has not been announced but was sufficient for EON to add over €1.5bn to their net profit forecast for this year.  The cut in prices is a reflection of reality.  European gas demand has been falling and supplies are plentiful.  In addition to continuing production from the North Sea , supplies from Russia, central Asia, north Africa, west Africa, Qatar and Trinidad are all competing to supply European consumers.

That is before counting any exports of gas from the US ( which are due to start in 2016 ) or any production from Europe’s extensive shale gas resources.

The reality of falling prices is a global phenomenon.   Read more