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UpstreamOnline: Russian watchdog to probe TNK-BP

UpstreamOnline image of Oleg Mitvol

Unleashed: Oleg Mitvol, head of Russia’s environment
watchdog, on an aerial inspection of Russia’s Sakhalin Island

By Upstream staff

Russia’s state ecology watchdog Rosprirodnadzor said it was launching a probe of the biggest oilfield controlled by BP’s Russian joint venture TNK-BP, days after security services launched a crackdown on the company.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) last week raided TNK-BP’s Moscow offices said it had arrested an employee for espionage. Analysts said the FSB’s actions could be the start of a Kremlin-driven attack on the joint venture.

The environmental inspection will be led by Rosprirodnadzor head Oleg Mitvol, who two years ago led a campaign against Shell on the Pacific island of Sakhalin, effectively forcing the company to sell out to state gas export monopoly Gazprom.

The natural resource ministry said in a statement the inspection was due to take place in March or April and was a routine check alongside inspections of other companies. But its timing is likely to attract attention.

The Kremlin has been consolidating its presence in the oil sector. There has been market speculation that state corporations were eyeing TNK-BP, one of the biggest foreign investments in Russia which in 2006 saw profits of $6.6 billion.

The FSB said it had arrested TNK-BP employee Ilya Zaslavsky and his brother Alexander on suspicion of industrial espionage. Both men are members of the alumni club of the British Council, the British government’s cultural arm.

The Russian foreign ministry said last week the arrests had nothing to do with Moscow’s strained relations with Britain.

The resources ministry said last week that Mitvol will check TNK-BP’s SamotlorNeftegaz production unit, which is developing the company’s Samotlor oilfield.

In 2006, Mitvol threatened to slap Shell with billions of dollars in ecological fines over its projects on Sakhalin. The dispute was resolved when Shell sold control in the $22 billion project to Gazprom.

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24 March 2008 04:00 GMT  | last updated: 24 March 2008 04:01 GMT

http://www.upstreamonline.com/live/article151064.ece

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