the Bear & the Dragon shake hands on $25Bn energy deal

siberianpipeline1Whilst having previously discussed the Byzantine workings of Russia’s energy players in previous articles & also the direction that China has taken recently in securing strategic reserves, it was only a matter of time befiore the Dragon & the Bear came to an accord together. During a visit to China this week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin has succeeded in bringing together a massive deal for Russian oil producers in Siberia.

On Tuesday (17/02/09), Russia and China signed  an intergovernmental agreement on the construction of a branch of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline toward China. Under this agreement, Russia will supply 15 million metric tons (300,000 barrels per day) of crude oil annually for 20 years to China, in return China via state owned China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) will extend a total of $25 billion in loans to Russian state-controlled crude producer Rosneft and pipeline operator Transneft at 6% per annum in exchange for the long-term oil supply. Transneft plans to start building a Chinese leg of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean later this year and to commission it in 2010, Russia’s monopoly pipeline operator said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The construction of the leg should be synchronized with the construction of the first line of the ESPO pipeline,” the statement quoted the company’s vice president, Mikhail Barkov, as saying. Barkov also said that China’s $10 billion loan to Transeft would primarily be invested in the construction of the Chinese leg. “In addition, there are projects that will contribute to the functioning of the entire eastern pipeline and this leg in particular,” the Transneft official said.

The pipeline’s first leg was launched in October 2008 in the reverse direction, running westwards. The construction of the pipeline, designed to bring Russian oil to the lucrative Asia-Pacific market, is due to be completed later this year, which will enable ESPO to pump its first oil eastwards. The terms of the agreement stipulate that China will extend a $15 billion loan to Russian state-run oil giant Rosneft against the guarantee of oil supplies, while Transneft’s $10 billion would be granted with the infrastructure as collateral. Currently Rosneft, which is expected to be the main oil exporter via the pipeline, supplys around 10 million tonnes of oil a year to China by railway under the terms of a deal signed in 2004.

The ESPO was originally conceived in the mid-90’s by now disgraced Yukos Chairman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as a private pipeline. Following the “collapse” of Yukos, state owned Transneft picked up the baton & began construction of the first leg in 2006, which completed last year. The pipeline is supplied via spurs from the Tomsk Oblast & Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug oil fields in Western Siberia, Transneft’s existing Omsk-Irkutsk pipeline has also been connected, allowing Rosneft to pump up to 22 million tons of oil annually into the pipeline, whilst smaller competitor Surgutneftegas will contribute around 8 million tons.

Anglo-Russian or Russo-Anglo (depending on which side of the political fence you sit on) TNK-BP is also involved in this project, having began supplying oil to the pipeline in October 2008. TNK-BP in a joint venture with Rosneft has extensive operations in the Verkhnechonskoye field, which has proven reserves of 409 million barrels of oil equivalent.

“The first shipment of VC crude into the ESPO marks an important event for TNK-BP and for the industry.” commented Chief Operating Officer Tim Summers at the launch. ” We are establishing a major new production center in East Siberia. Application of world—class technology and the timely launch of the ESPO pipeline allowed us to begin commercial development of this project, which has been deemed uneconomic for the past 30 years. The beginning of regular commercial shipments from VC to the ESPO marks the emergence of East Siberia as a new and important oil and gas province in Russia”.

So win-win all round? Certainly for the Chinese in the long term, as we have argued in previous articles, China is on a spending spree on commodities, particularly in the energy sector where it seems almost desperate to secure strategic reserves. Russia also gains, in that with the recent devaluation of the rouble, access to funding in capital markets has been harder to come by, especially for Russia’s energy firms. Do we in the West gain from this ? That remains to be seen, from a persoanl viewpoint, this may well help to stabilise geo-political issues in the region whilst also contributing to oil price stability in the long run.

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