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The Times: Breathing space for BP as Russians put off the inevitable

June 2, 2007
Steve Hawkes

Russian authorities yesterday gave BP an extra two weeks to negotiate a deal over its future role in the $20 billion (£10.1 billion) Kovykta gas field, by delaying a decision over whether to revoke the group’s licence.

The move amounts to a brief stay of execution for Tony Hayward, BP’s new chief executive, who is understood to have held talks about the project on Thursday with Gazprom, the Kremlin-backed gas group.

Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources had been widely expected to annul the Kovykta licence held by TNK-BP, the UK group’s Russian venture, in a meeting yesterday.

The ministry claimed that TNK-BP had breached the terms of its licence by failing to meet a production target of 9 billion cubic metres per year.

However, by mid-afternoon yesterday, a source revealed that the ministry had put back a decision by a fortnight, owing to the “complexity of the matter”. Alexander Shadrin, a TNK-BP spokesman, added: “The meeting took place. No decision was made.”

The ministry’s move means that a decision on the matter will now come after the G8 summit in Germany and Russia’s showcase Economic Forum in St Petersburg, which Mr Hayward is due to attend next weekend.

Analysts said it was still almost certain that Gazprom would eventually secure a majority stake in the project.

The natural resources ministry mounted a similar campaign against Shell last year over environmental breaches at the Sakhalin II offshore oil and gasfield. The campaign ended with Gazprom taking a controlling stake.

TNK-BP argues that production at Kovykta is low because Gazprom has not agreed to export gas from the field, which is big enough to supply Asia for five years.

Gazprom has already been offered control of the project, but analysts said it seemed the Russian authorities were putting pressure on TNK-BP to lower the asking price.

Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank in Moscow, said: “The fact that TNK-BP will lose control is a given.”

Meanwhile, the ministry’s licensing committee gave a boost to another UK concern, deciding not to take any action over the vast majority of licences held by Imperial Energy in the Tomsk Region. Shares in Imperial surged 15 per cent.

BG Group separately secured a new 15-year deal to supply Russia with gas from its Karachaganak field in Kazahkstan. The deal means that the BG-led consortium will push ahead with an $8 billion (£4 billion) investment at the field.

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article1873109.ece

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