Natural resources on the Russian continental shelf: Foreign investors sought… on Russian terms

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Series Details No.76 (09.05.12)
Publication Date May 2012
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In recent weeks, Rosneft, a Russian state-owned oil company, has signed co-operation agreements with three Western corporations: America’s ExxonMobil, Italy’s Eni, and Norway’s Statoil. In exchange for access to Russian oil fields on the continental shelf as minority shareholders, these Western investors will finance and carry out exploration there. They will also offer to Rosnieft technology transfer, staff exchange and the purchase of shares in their assets outside Russia (for example in the North Sea or in South America). Rosneft’s deals with Western energy companies prove that the Russian government is resuming the policy of a controlled opening-up of the Russian energy sectors to foreign investors which it initiated in 2006.

So far, investors have been given access to the Russian electric energy sector and some onshore gas fields. The agreements which have been signed so far also allow them to work on the Russian continental shelf. This process is being closely supervised by the Russian government, which has enabled the Kremlin to maintain full control of this sector. The primary goal of this policy is to attract modern technologies and capital to Russia and to gain access to foreign assets since this will help Russian corporations to reinforce their positions in international markets. The signing of the above agreements does not guarantee that production will commence. These are a high-risk projects. It remains uncertain whether crude can be extracted from those fields and whether its development will be cost-effective. According to estimates, the Russian Arctic shelf holds approximately 113 billion tonnes of hydrocarbons. The development of these fields, including building any necessary infrastructure, may consume over US$500 billion within 30 years.

Furthermore, the legal regulations currently in force in Russia do not guarantee that foreign investors will have a share in the output from these fields. Without foreign support, Russian companies are unlikely to cope with such technologically complicated and extremely expensive investments. In the most optimistic scenario, the oil production in the Russian Arctic may commence in fifteen to twenty years at the earliest.

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