TOTAL: DESPITE TENSIONS
Oil major Total SA Chairman and Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie confirmed on Friday that he plans to attend a conference later this month in St. Petersburg, Russia, while other Western executives have been skipping the event because of tensions between the West and Moscow over Ukraine.
Attending the event for Mr. de Margerie is "business as usual," because the group's operations in Russia haven't been affected by the tensions or by sanctions against some Russian individuals and companies by both the U.S. and the European Union, he told reporters on the sides of Total's annual shareholders meeting.
The French oil company, which has had operations in Russia since 1991, has reiterated its commitment to its Russian operations since the crisis between Moscow and Kiev over Crimea and other Russian-speaking Ukrainian regions emerged. Total expects the country to be its most important region in terms of oil and gas output, with production of hydrocarbons seen at around 400,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, double the current level. Total's total oil production last year was 2.3 million barrels of oil equivalent.
In 2011, in an agreement with Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, Total invested $4 billion to take a 12.8% stake in OAO Novatek, Russia's largest independent oil and gas producer. The stake has since risen to 17% and should reach 19.6% by the end of 2014.
Mr. Timchenko, one of Novatek's largest shareholders through his privately owned fund Volga Group, and a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was among those targeted by U.S. sanctions, which prevent Americans from doing business with him, yet not with companies minority-owned by him.
Mr. de Margerie admitted that "there could be a risk" that the diplomatic crisis between Russia and Ukraine could slightly delay the start of production of the giant liquefied natural gas project in northern Russia, Yamal LNG, which Total is jointly developing with Novatek. China National Petroleum Corp. recently joined the project.
Total and Novatek have together invested $27 billion to develop the LNG project in the Russian Arctic, which should start producing in 2017.
Some parts of the financing could be missing should the crisis go on, as some Western banks could pull out from Russia or cease business with Russian counterparts, Mr. de Margerie warned. But in such a case, any impact would likely be offset by financing from the project's Chinese partners, which are willing to finance as much as 50% so far, he also said.
Yamal field's proven reserves are estimated at 800 million barrels of oil equivalent, from which the two companies could one day produce as much as 15 million tons a year of LNG.
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