by Antonia Colibășanu
- In an effort to have an agreement on oil production that will allow for a price increase, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia have confirmed their participation to the OPEC meeting in Vienna on Nov. 30. Mexico Energy Minister has also received an invitation to the meeting but hasn’t confirmed participation. The backing of non-OPEC members for production cuts have increased in importance over the years, as technology has eased production worldwide and the cartel no longer has the power to control the global market. Following the announcement last month that OPEC has agreed to agree on production cuts, several member countries of the cartel have opposed the idea already: Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Libya have all said that they will seek exemptions from a potential agreement. [More about the OPEC agreement]
- The European Commission has decided to allow Gazprom to use another 30% of the capacity of the OPAL pipeline that connects Nord Stream I in Northern Germany with the gas infrastructure in the Czech Republic. Gazprom retains the access for 50% of the pipeline and rivals will be given access to up to 20% of Opal’s 36 bcm of annual capacity. The Commission decision applies until 2033. Before the resolution published on Oct. 28, the Polish state-owned gas company PGNiG threatened to sue the Commission over the Opal decision, saying it threatened its own security of supplies. Poland anti-monopoly agency, in July this year, has also blocked the formation of the consortium formed by Gazprom and its European partners to build the Nord Stream II pipeline. While the EU Commissioner for energy said recently that he doubts the feasibility of Nord Stream II, the project is still advertised by Russia. The decision to open up Opal removes a key hurdle for Gazprom’s plans to build the Nord Stream 2, even if other difficulties remain to be overcome as well. Reaching a deal on OPAL is seen to be in relation with the guarantees that the Commission seeks on Gazprom continuing piping gas across Ukraine after its contract expires in 2019. This idea was confirmed by the EU Commissioner for energy Maros Sefcovic who said in an interview that Brussels wants Ukraine to remain an important gas transit country to Europe post 2019 and that “a maximum effort” is being done to broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine. [More on Nord Stream II hurdles]
- Gazprom said that it will make a settlement offer to resolve a European Commission antitrust case that has been opened in 2012. Russia’s Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky accompanied Gazprom’s deputy head Alexander Medvedev on a meeting with Europe’s Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Oct. 26 in Brussels. Reports citing unnamed sources said that the deal reached during the meeting will be presented by Gazprom in the coming weeks and that it is heavily politicized. As part of the deal, Gazprom reportedly committed to drop clauses in its supply contracts with wholesalers and some industrial customers barring them from exporting its gas to other countries. In the same time, Gazprom is to show more flexibility on price, as one of the EU’s key concerns was that the Russian company sets unfair prices in the Baltic states, Bulgaria and Poland while tying gas contracts to pipeline commitments. However, at the end of the meeting, the EU Commissioner Vestager said that “everything is still on the table”. Talk of a settlement follows Gazprom’s victory in a price arbitration case with Lithuania in June which analysts say to have weakened the EU anti-trust case. A negotiated settlement would oblige Gazprom to EU authority in applying competition law. If Gazprom fails to comply, the EU could resort to fines up to 10% of the company’s global turnover. This settlement as well as the deal reached on the OPAL pipeline are important gestures that the EU makes toward Russia, at a time when the EU stance taken towards Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine is also being discussed among the member states.
- Local media reports said on Oct. 26 that the Polish government is preparing to veto deals by French utilities EDF and Engie to sell local power assets to bidders rivaling state-controlled companies. The French companies EDF and Engie are in the process of selling their Polish assets as they seek to reduce exposure to fossil fuels. EDF said on Oct. 26 that it talks with the Czech/Slovak energy holding EPH over its Rybnik power plant sale, while its heat power installations are the subject of negotiations with Australian investment fund IFM. Reports earlier this year have said that the government has asked EDF to delay the sale until the Polish consortium of state-controlled companies led by the government and asked to take over the assets is ready to take part in talks. Sunningwell International investment fund and an unknown Chinese bidder have reportedly made the best offers for Engie’s power plant in Polaniec while the Polish state-controlled utility Enea made a much lower bid. But, with coal currently leading the Polish energy strategy and the government’s expanded powers to interfere with transactions that are seen to potentially have an impact over the country’s security, Warsaw is likely to push state-controlled companies to take over assets.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi discussed joint energy projects by phone on Oct. 30. Matteo Renzi has forced a retreat from new sanctions on Russia against the proposal coming from Germany, France and Britain for new penalties against Moscow over the bombardment of Aleppo. Italy continues to vocally oppose the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
- The Czech government’s special envoy for nuclear power said that six companies are interested in building additional nuclear reactors at existing power plants. Russia’s Rosatom, French group EDF, US company Westinghouse, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, China General Nuclear Power and a grouping of France’s Areva and Mitsubishi Atmea had all sent letters of interest in taking part in the future project. The construction will likely start after the country’s elections in 2017.
- French Total has written in its last quarterly report, for the 3rd quarter of 2016 that “oil discovery in the Black Sea opening a new play”, indicating that it has discovered oil in a Bulgarian Black Sea offshore block. The consortium formed of Total, OMV and Repsol have started drilling in the Black Sea in April this year, launching oil and gas exploration at Bulgaria’s offshore block 1-21 Han Asparuh. Total hasn’t yet commented or given more details on the offshore findings cited in their quarterly report.