New Player in Caspian Sea Power Corridor

September 29, 2009

Competition – or development – of EU’s eastern gas supply routes has intensified this year. Both EU/U.S. backed Nabucco and Russia’s South Stream have made deals to guarantee realization of new pipelines until 2015. The EU’s new “southern corridor” – Nabucco as essential part of it – has been dubbed a version of U.S. “Silk Road Strategy” aimed to block Russia from gas fields around Caspian Sea and its connection to Iran. Russia on the other hand wants direct access to EU markets without transit via Ukraine.

Until this summer the gas game has be seen as battle between Russia and West. Now the world economic crisis and current low price of gas have brought a new player to game in fuel sector – China. With its financial strength China has now had ability to intensify its offensive towards the Caspian Sea energy sources especially in Kazakhstan (especially oil) and Turkmenistan (especially gas). Will the outcome be, that both Russia and Western powers with their companies will lose Caspian oil and gas while it will flow to East? Not necessary but from now on one can not ignore China as key player in region.

As main source related to energy game in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan I have used Ajdar Kurtov’s fine article “SCO Yekaterinburg summit and China’s energy offensive towards the Caspian Sea”

Kazakhstan

Back in the 1990s Kazakhstan made easily available its mineral wealth to American, British, French and Italian companies. The bulk of the profit generated was channeled to Kazakhstan’s new partners. A threat loomed large of Kazakhstan turning into a third-world country with a raw exports role to play for the highly-advanced states.

However, Kazakhstan growing stronger economically, socially and politically while the world hydrocarbons market prices shooting up early this century made Kazakhstan leaders think better of their old stands. The new conditions prompted Kazakhstan to reconsider the earlier signed agreements, and Astana specifically proclaimed the objective of establishing state control over the oil and gas sector. The Kazakh authorities brought pressure to bear on the foreign companies in a bid to force the latter to accept changes to the earlier signed contracts.

The national company “KazMunaiGaz” was made responsible for advancing Kazakhstan’s state interests in the oil and gas field institutionally. Initially Kazakhstan leaders applied much the same tactic to pursue the same objective to one of Kazakhstan’s three oil refineries, the Pavlodar refinery, which is located by the Russian border and technologically oriented to Russian oil refining. The facility was privatized in January 1997 and the government’s stake placed in management by the US CCL Oil Ltd. Company on the terms of a public-private partnership agreement. But the Kazakh government prematurely terminated the agreement a few years later and handed over a 51% stake to the OAO “Mangistaumunaigaz”. The company later brought its stock of shares to 58%, with 42% of the Pavlodar oil refinery’s stock capital owned by the state. After that the national company “KazMunaiGaz” bought 51% of the “Mangistaumunaigaz” stock of shares from Indonesia’s Central Asia Petroleum and consequently gained control over the facility.

It was reported on the 16th of April 2009 that amid the world economic crisis Kazakhstan borrowed from China 10 billion dollars during N. Nazarbayev’s visit to Beijing. The Chinese CNPC Company bought a 50% stake of “Mangistaumunaigaz” for 1.4 billion dollars. Kazakhstan leaders are ousting western partners from the hydrocarbons market and refusing to meet Russian companies halfway, while losing ground to China. Chinese companies already own a third of Kazakhstan-produced oil, or more than 20 million tonnes per year. The purchasing of Kazakhstan’s “Mangistaumunaigaz” assets by China’s CNPC further tightens China’s grip on the Kazakh oil market and weakens the positions of Russia and the West in Kazakhstan’s fuel and energy complex.

Turkmenistan

China’s policy of advancing towards the Caspian Sea region resources is seen also in Turkmenistan. Ashgabat has long discussed the construction of a 6,500 kilometer gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China to Japan. The construction project was due to be carried out in 10 years and was pretty costly (11 billion dollars, of which some 1.7 billion dollars would account for the sea section of the pipeline). Later the easterly direction of Turkmen natural gas deliveries was sort of “updated”, namely the option for laying a pipeline to Japan was dropped, with China having been made the only terminal point of delivery.

A more important development for Turkmenistan in 2006 was the republic’s president S. Niyazov’s visit to China in early April. The main agreement in a package he signed in Beijing was the General intergovernmental agreement on the implementation of the Turkmenistan – China gas pipeline project and on selling natural gas from Turkmenistan to the People’s Republic of China in the volume of 30 billion cubic metres annually for 30 years since the time the gas pipeline was commissioned, which was due in 2009.

The new Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline will be nearly 6,500 kilometres, with over 180 kilometres due to be laid in Turkmenistan, 530 kilometres, – in Uzbekistan, 1,300 kilometres, – in Kazakhstan, and over 4,500 kilometres, – in China. The overall cost of the project makes up some 20 billion dollars. 17 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas were due to be annually exported through the development of new gas fields, while the remaining 13 billion cubic metres of annual gas exports,- through the construction of gas purification and treatment plants at the largest gas condensate field Bagtyyarlyk.

The construction of the pipeline (Turkmenistan-China) got under way in 2008 when Russian Company “Stroytransgaz” won 395 m€ contract for laying the Turkmen section of project and also plant to purify and dehydrate gas and a gas-measuring station. The Turkmen stage is expected to be finished by December 2009 and the entire pipeline in late 2010.

Iran?

On February 21st 2009 the Iranian and Turkmeni governments signed an agreement that will give Iran the rights to develop the Yolotan gas field in Turkmenistan. The deal will help Iran resolve gas supply problems in its north-eastern provinces. Turkmenistan will sell Iran an additional 350 billion cubic feet of gas annually, more than doubling current supplies of almost 300 bcf a year, according to the agreement first disclosed by Iran’s official media and later confirmed by Turkmenistan.Iran also recently offered to invest $1.7 billion for a 10 percent stake in the second phase of Azerbaijan’s huge Shah-Deniz gas field which will come on line by 2014. Iran already has a 10 percent share in the first phase and it wants to import large volumes of gas from the Azeri field. For Iran, the deals couldn’t be better suited to its objectives. It’s economically unviable currently to supply gas to its isolated, north-eastern third of the country. Getting gas from Turkmenistan would therefore make more Iranian gas available for export to Turkey.

Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI)

The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline on the other hand would feed natural gas into downstream economies that are desperate for natural gas supplies. Afghanistan is the first of these, and energy shortages are rarely discussed as one of the problems of their economy, but with only 10 – 12% of the populace having access to electricity and with only limited natural gas resources (perhaps enough for a 100 megawatt power station), the country needs to import natural gas in large volumes. Pakistan is still desperate for help with natural gas and other energy fuels. But so far there is no pipeline to help.

There is some base to claim that U.S.military’s involvement in Afghanistan is directly related to the large reserves of natural gas in Turkmenistan. While the U.S. military may be a wholly owned subsidiary of the international (i.e. American and British)oil companies), its anyway clear that demand to increase troop levels in Afghanistan jumped a bit along with the recently publicized discovery of the very large large natural gas reserves in the Yoloten-Osman gas field in southern Turkmenistan.

Some (geo)political remarks

  • In March 1999, the U.S. Congress adopted the Silk Road Strategy Act, which defined America’s broad economic and strategic interests in a region extending from the Eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia. The act was revised in 2006 to include the energy interests of the US as one of the primary reasons for the US to be in Afghanistan – note no reference to Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaeda ;The Silk Road Strategy (SRS) outlines a framework for the development of America’s business empire along an extensive geographical corridor. The successful implementation of the SRS requires the concurrent “militarization” of the entire Eurasian corridor as a means to securing control over extensive oil and gas reserves, as well as “protecting” pipeline routes and trading corridors. This militarization is largely directed against China, Russia and Iran. More about background of this battle in my articleIs GUUAM dead?
  • As said the new pipeline will run through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Xinjiang in western China. Xinjiang is becoming increasingly important as a transit route for gas pipelines from Russia and Central Asia. Given the vast region’s location several thousand kilometers inside China, it is impractical for the Chinese to protect fully the long stretches of pipelines through Xinjiang’s vast mountains and deserts so they are trying to eliminate the militant groups before the pipelines become operational. So far the unrest in Xijiang has be seen based to ethnic questions. The energy aspect explains why China’s response to unrest is and will be strong also in future.
  • Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that was called in Yekaterinburg on the 16th of June. Besides some universal ideas in statements and declarations the SCO Energy Club has to this day failed to come up with a cooperation model that would suit all member-states. China’s actions on the ground will lay the basis for actual energy cooperation in the SCO framework since instead of some remote private owner China as state (via state-owned company) is implementing the projects. Promoting energy cooperation in SCO framework must from now on take the “Chinese Factor” seriously.
  • The bad news for Russia is that there is a customer willing to take all the gas that Turkmenistan has for sale: China. It has been steadily gaining access to the energy wealth of Central Asia, while ousting American, European and Russian companies from the area. Beside oil and gas the Chinese are simultaneously planing to transport also the mineral resources in question to China’s western border.
  • For contest between EU’s Nabucco and Russia’s South Stream China’s actions favor later. Today’s arrangements are securing gas for South Stream while Nabucco still is searching supply. It is more clear that Nabucco should be filled with Iraqi and/or Iranian gas and political aspects related to this may delay finding(private) investors and the implementation of project as whole. In bottom line while Russia is taking its part from old gas fields and China from old and new gasfields the Nabucco pipe still is more than half empty.

More about background of Nabucco/South Stream battle in my articles “Is it time to bury Nabucco?” and “EU’s big choice – Nabucco or South Stream?





EU’s big choice – Nabucco or South Stream?

May 15, 2009

Despite the efforts to save energy a strong scenario for near future is that the quantity of gas needed in EU region will remain same as today if not bigger.  sources of gas are widely known the essential question is how the gas is arriving to European markets.  Environmental and technical aspects can be handled as well economical ones; the real battlefield is (geo) political and it’s much more effective than energy issue itself.

In today’s Europe the core of energy war is the struggle between South Stream and Nabucco pipe lines, which also is one of the most divisive issue inside EU.  The Brussels bureaucracy favour the Nabucco project, a transit route bypassing both Russia and Ukraine, while a part of EU member states, EU energy giants and gas producers are favouring Russia’s South Stream.

Latest developments


EU, Russia as well companies interested about gas business have all activated when decisions are needed to define the final route of gas to European markets.

a) EU


The common factor with both pipelines is that they are eliminating Ukraine’s transit monopoly.  Publicly EU has probably due political motives planned update Ukraine’s gas pipeline network like during The International Investment Conference on March 23rd 2009 in Brussels. Russia has not been invited to discuss the terms of gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine’s gas pipeline network for three years but Ukraine is hoping part of requested $5.5 bn modernization costs from EU in name of EU energy security. Gas buyers and transit operators may have their views, but the question still remains what they can buy and on which terms.  EU bureaucrats are making a fatal miscalculation if they are building energy infrastructure without source of energy itself.

The EU Commission has included the Nabucco pipeline in its list of priority projects,  despite pressure from Germany and Italy. But the EU cut its budget funding of the project by 20% getting some 200 million euros for first stage of the project.Nabucco is likely to rely heavily on subsidies from the EU. Several member countries questioned the economics of the project.

The European Union and Turkey gave fresh political impetus on 8thMay 2009 in Prague to the Nabucco pipeline project, although key Central Asian gas suppliers held off on pledging their support. But it also needs gas, which may be a problem as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan refused to sign the final declaration in Prague, unlike two other suppliers — Azerbaijan and Egypt — and two key transit nations — Turkey and Georgia. But Mr Gul also made clear he expected some progress on Turkey’s stalled EU membership talks.  Earlier Turkey’s premier, in a rare visit to Brussels on January 19, tested Europe’s reaction, saying that he will review his support for Nabucco if the Energy Chapter of its EU accession talks is blocked. “If we are faced with a situation where the energy chapter is blocked, we would of course review our position,” he said. (Neweurope 26 January 2009) The Declaration of Southern Corridor Summit here .


b) Russia


Russia has floated plans for a new global treaty on trade in fossil and nuclear fuel in an attempt to consign to history an earlier pact, the 1991 Energy Charter Treaty. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev unveiled the project during his state visit in Finland on 20th April 209. “Our task today is to maintain, or rather ensure for the future, the balance of producers of energy resources, transit states and consumers of energy resources,” he said. The new pact is to cover oil, gas, nuclear fuel, coal and electricity and to include the US, China and India as well as European countries.

On 15th May 2009 four agreements shall be signed in Sochi: the national companies of Serbia, , Bulgaria and Italy shall sign agreement with the Russian ‘Gazprom.  One of them is agreement between Serbia’s Srbijagas and Russia’s Gazprom on route of Southern Stream pipeline through Serbia with length about 450 kilometers.  There shall be also a fifth agreement – bilateral agreement between Russia and Italy, which shall be signed by the Prime Ministers of the two countries, Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi. (Blic 13.5.2009)

c) Companies

The consortium behind the Nabucco now comprises six national energy companies: Botas (Turkey), Bulgargaz (Bulgaria), Transgaz (Romania), MOL (Hungary), OMV (Austria), and RWE (Germany). However on Jan. 25, 2008 OMV sealed a deal for a joint venture with Gazprom for extending Baumgarten’s storage and distribution capacity. Accordingly, Gazprom holds a 50 percent stake there.  Moreover, OMV has been buying into Hungary’s MOL. Considering Russia’s significant share in OMV, any amount of OMV ownership of MOL again translates into stakes for Russia’s energy giant. Even further challenging the Nabucco project is the fact that OMV and MOL, together with yet a third consortium member, Bulgargaz, have already signed up to Gazprom’s South Stream project.

Nabucco


The pipeline that the EU hopes will bring gas from the Caspian Sea to Austria takes its name from Giuseppe Verdi’s 1842 opera, Nabucco. The work tells the story of the oppression and exile of Hebrew slaves by Nabucco, a Babylonian king, better known to the English world as Nebuchadnezzar. The opera deals with the eternal quest for freedom, but the choice of name may yet prove fateful for a project that is facing so many obstacles to its completion.
The pipeline is supposed to transport around 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually. In terms of gas suppliers the project’s backers have named Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

However Turkmenistan’s gas output is contracted to Russia up until 2028. Azerbaitzan also does not have the amounts required so as for the project to be profitable in the long run. The possibility of Iranian gas is far from realistic due to its nuclear program and the adamant denial by Israel and the opponent Sunni Arab states.  Nabucco is still counting on gas supplies from Azerbaijan despite a memorandum of understanding signed between Russia’s Gazprom and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan SOCAR signed on March 30th 2009 clearly shows the growing interest of Azerbaijan in cooperation with Russia.

32 European countries are clients of Russia’s Gazprom.  Despite EU declarations and investment plans the US-backed Nabucco natural gas pipeline is dying a slow death. Even its strongest supporters have a hard time demonstrating its commercial viability. The risk for Nabucco is that if the supply and funding issues are not sorted out, the EU’s dream of energy freedom will remain an aspiration rather than a reality.

South Stream


Its planned route would run from the Russian Black Sea coast across the seabed to Bulgaria, then bifurcate into a southern branch to Greece and southern Italy and a northern branch into Serbia, Hungary, and Austria, with a potential detour to Slovenia and northern Italy.

Bulgaria and Hungary have both signed government agreements on joining South Stream. Austria is also in talks and has already agreed to sell Gazprom 50 percent of the shares in Baumgarten, the gas hub where Nabucco is supposed to end, while Turkey already operates a direct sub-marine pipeline linking it to Russia – Blue Stream.  Also Romania is open to investing in the Gazprom pipeline South Stream, not just the EU Nabucco project.

On December 2008, Russia and Serbia signed an umbrella agreement providing political guarantees that Serbia will receive a stretch of the South Stream gas pipeline and that the underground gas storage facility in Banatski Dvor will be finalized.  At the same time a 51 % stake of Serbian Oil Industry (NIS) was sold to Gazprom.Slovenia backed South Stream gas pipeline in the midst of a European gas crisis Jan. 2009 while Gazprom tried to secure pledges on the South Stream gas pipeline to Italy.  The Slovenian delegation said during the meeting the implementation of the South Stream project would both diversify the European energy sector and allow Russia to transit its gas without obstacles.  A portion of the pipeline would travel through Serbia and Hungary with options to include a leg through Slovenia to northern Italy.

In September 2008, Uzbekistan and Russia agreed to build a new pipeline with a capacity of 26 to 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually to pump Uzbek and Turkmen gas to Europe. Such a pipeline will again undermine the US efforts to pump trans-Caspian energy routes bypassing Russia.

The technical and economic assessment of the land where the pipeline will lie is planned to be completed by the end of 2009, while the assessment of facility’s underground stretches should be finished in early 2010.  Russia’s Gazprom plans to start gas deliveries to Europe through the future South Stream pipeline no later than 2015.

Iran

However, the whole situation is good for Iran. Some experts believe that without Iran the “Nabucco” project will remain unimplemented, while its participation could give an impulse to the process.  Iran has the  largest gas reserves in the world after Russia  and Turkmenistan (27,5 trillion cubic meters, or 18% of the world’s gas reserves and 33% of that of the OPEC).

But is there gas coming from Iran?  Iran uses the lion’s share of produced gas (360 million cubic meters daily) for civil purposes. By the year 2014 Tehran plans to provide gas to 93% of the population of 630 cities and to 18% of the rural population in more than 4,000 villages. Iran’s factories and electric power plants also need much gas. Another share of the produced gas Iran has to inject into its reserves to keep oil production at a high level (experts say this help Iran increase output by more than 30%). Iran has long been enjoying infrastructure for oil exports but yet has not such for exporting gas.

On February 21st 2009 the Iranian and Turkmeni governments signed an agreement that will give Iran the rights to develop the Yolotan gas field in Turkmenistan. The deal will help Iran resolve gas supply problems in its north-eastern provinces. Turkmenistan will sell Iran an additional 350 billion cubic feet of gas annually, more than doubling current supplies of almost 300 bcf a year, according to the agreement first disclosed by Iran’s official media and later confirmed by Turkmenistan.

Iran also recently offered to invest $1.7 billion for a 10 percent stake in the second phase of Azerbaijan’s huge Shah-Deniz gas field which will come on line by 2014. Iran already has a 10 percent share in the first phase and it wants to import large volumes of gas from the Azeri field. For Iran, the deals couldn’t be better suited to its objectives. It’s economically unviable currently to supply gas to its isolated, north-eastern third of the country. Getting gas from Turkmenistan would therefore make more Iranian gas available for export to Turkey. Also, connecting both Caspian countries to Iran via pipeline would allow Tehran to accomplish its long-held objective of transiting any gas production increases from its neighbours to customers in Europe, the Persian Gulf, or Asia.

Turkmenistan


Preliminary indications are the gas reserves in Turkmenistan is around 38.4 TCM – far more than Iran and just 20% lower than Russia. The biggest gas field discovery was in October 2008 – called the Yoloten Osman deposits. It is located near the Afghan – Turkmenistan border. Turkmenistan has contracts to supply Russia with 50 bcm annually, China with 40 bcm and Iran with 8 bcm annually. The Russian energy giant Gazprom requires this Turkmen gas to meet its export obligations in the European market, which accounts for 70% of the its total revenue. Gazprom sells 2/3 of Russia’s 550 bcm annual gas production in the rapidly growing domestic market. This compels it to secure Turkmen supplies to meet contracted European demands.

Nabucco vs. South Stream

Gazprom has received an invitation to join the Nabucco pipeline project to pump gas from Central Asia to Europe, but will not take up the offer, a deputy head of Russia’s energy giant said. In an interview with Vesti TV on Monday, Alexander Medvedev said Gazprom would stick with its South Stream project and stay out of Nabucco. “Unlike in the case of Nabucco, we have everything we need for this project [South Stream] to materialize,” he said. “We have gas, the market, experience in implementing complex projects, and corporate management.”

The Nabucco route does circumvent Ukraine, but it is from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, goes under Caspian Sea, passes across Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia. So many countries in pipeline are creating multiple political risk compared to South Stream which goes from Russia under Black Sea directly to EU zone.  Besides, Nabucco is going to lack the resource base adequate to its transit capacities unless the project is joined, for example, by Iran, but this is politically problematic.
The shareholders of the Nabucco consortium are: Botas (Turkey), Bulgargaz (Bulgaria), MOL (Hungary), OMV(Austria), RWE(Germany) and Transgaz (Romania).  OMV, MOL and Bulgargaz have also signed up to South Stream pipeline, which bypasses Turkey. It is unrealistic to think that both South Stream and Nabucco will happen, but companies  want to make sure at least one of them happens and be part of that.

The current timeframe, assuming that the outstanding issues are resolved, is that Nabucco  would come on-stream in 2013, two years after Nord Stream, the planned Baltic pipeline, which has already secured both supplies and finance for the construction work.

Some geopolitical aspects

The EU’s new “southern corridor” has been dubbed a version of U.S. “Silk Road Strategy” aimed to block Russia from gas fields around Caspian Sea and its connection to Iran (More in my article “Is GUUAM dead?).   The South Pars natural gas field brings a new element to change original U.S. plan as it is a sign of a long-term energy alliance between Moscow and Tehran and with active participation of the EU. Turkey and Armenia may be join the project as transit countries. Naturally, this leaves Washington very few chances to lobby its energy projects in the region aimed at using Azerbaijan and Georgia as the so-called ‘Caucasus communication corridor’.

In addition Russia, Iran and Qatar have taken the decision to form a “big gas troika”.  The idea is that three countries – with 60 % of global gas reserves – will work on joint projects accross the entire gas chain from geological exploration and production to distributionand marketing gas. Alexey Miller – Head of Gazprom – stated at the end the meeting that “we are united by the world’s largest gas reserves, common strategic interests and, which is very important, high potential for cooperation within tripartite projects.

There is also a question about Turkey.  The South Stream pipeline will run from Russia directly to Bulgaria across the Black Sea. Russia is diversifying its gas supply routes so as not to depend on one transport hub. It might perhaps be cheaper to build the new pipeline along existing route of the Blue Stream, which crosses the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey, than to lay a new route on the seabed. This, however, would increase the aggregate capacity of the two streams to about 48 billion cubic meters, giving the Turks a great deal of influence on Russian supplies.Russia and the EU countries do not want this to happen.  On the other side Greece, which is taking part in the construction of an oil pipeline from Burgas in Bulgaria to Alexandroupolis, has announced its readiness to join the South Stream project. This makes sense, as apart from bringing economic dividends it will make Greece an international energy hub on a par with Turkey.

Bottom line

In conclusion EC is pushing imaginary project of Nabucco pipes with support of drowning USA who’s last straw of Silk Road blocking strategy Nabucco is.  EU countries as well non-member states are pushing national interests;  Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are looking the best deal, Russia tries keep domination of gas markets and secure the resources, EU companies are playing with two cards to secure being with winners side and EP of course is bystander.

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