Russia has moved to allay fears that it could cut vital oil flows to Europe despite heightened tensions over the country's aggressive stance towards its former client states. Russia's energy minister insisted that it was working to ensure stable oil supplies through the key Druzhba pipeline that links Russia to eastern Europe and the west.
"We are doing everything we can so Druzhba can keep working stably and supply European consumers with enough oil," Sergei Shmatko said during a visit to Tajikistan.
"We have worked for many years to gain not just the image, but the status of a reliable energy supplier to Europe and we would never let it suffer, even in this political situation." Officials at Lukoil also denied they had received political pressure to cut supplies next week.
Sources told The Daily Telegraph this week that the Kremlin has prepared Russian oil companies to cut supplies in the face of threatened economic sanctions from the European Union. Until yesterday, the EU had threatened to take a hard line towards Russia over its invasion of Georgia, but the comments from Russia coincided with those from French officials, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, who appear to have since shied away from imposing any formal sanctions.
Yesterday, the Russian ambassador to the UK, Yury Fedotov, said he hoped “people will think twice before making such a decision because it would be quite dangerous, especially for the current economic situation”.
Energy markets have been nervously watching the dispute between Europe and Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter and oil prices yesterday rose $2.23 to $117.82 a barrel. The possible threat of Tropical Storm Gustav becoming a hurricane and disrupting oil production in the Gulf of Mexico was also a factor in the rise. "Only a sick mind would think of cutting off Europe," a trader at a Russian oil company said.
"Technically it is practically impossible, since (Russian) refineries are running at maximum rates and it is difficult to arbitrage right now."
"You can't completely rule it out, though," the trader added. "Politics always interferes with work."
Although Russia claims it has never cut off oil supplies for political reasons - even during the height of the Cold War - analysts believe it has often done so in the past, albeit in different guises. Last month, Russia cut oil deliveries to the Czech Republic by 50pc citing technical issues that reduced the availability of crude. However it came as the Czech government approved plans to host a US radar that is part of its missile shield defence system, prompting accusations that the cutbacks were politically motivated. Russia was accused of playing a similar game with Ukraine and the Baltic states last winter, ostensibly hiking prices for economic reasons that many suspected were politically motivated as those countries moved further away from the Russian sphere of influence.
The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service said Wednesday that it was investigating the country's second-biggest oil producer, LUKoil, on suspicion of barring a smaller rival from using its pipeline in the Komi republic.
A more liberal access to pipelines is one of the key goals that the competition watchdog is pursuing. It is also seeking a government decision that would make Gazprom more accountable in running its pipelines. A small oil producer, Nobel Oil, complained that a LUKoil unit banned it from shipping its associated gas, a byproduct of oil production, via a LUKoil-owned pipeline, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service said in a statement.
"Having studied the situation, the [service's] Komi branch saw signs of a breach of the law in LUKoil-Komi's actions," the government watchdog said.
Pipeline shipments of gas fall under the law that defends competition, it said. The anti-monopoly service demanded that both sides submit documents about the matter by Sept. 12. A service spokesman declined to elaborate.
LUKoil considers the pipeline its private property, a spokesman said. "Perhaps, we have the right to decide who we give access to," he said on condition of anonymity, citing company policy.
LUKoil will submit the documents by the deadline, the spokesman said.
A Nobel Oil official said that company president Grigory Gurevich was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
LUKoil will ask the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to intervene in a dispute with aluminum firm United Company RusAl over oil coke supplies, the oil company's vice president, Valery Subbotin, told reporters Thursday.
Subbotin said LUKoil, Russia's second-largest oil producer, would appeal to the service in an attempt to get RusAl to pay higher prices for oil coke, which is used in the production of anodes and anode paste in RusAl's smelters.
"We will turn to the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service in order to oblige RusAl to pay market price," Subbotin said. "Coke prices have changed three times. We suggested that they reconsider the price. They refused."
RusAl this month filed a lawsuit against LUKoil for an alleged breach of a long-term contract to supply oil coke to its smelters.
RusAl, the world's largest aluminum producer, said on Aug. 13 that oil coke shipments from LUKoil had almost halved since April and accused the firm of cutting shipments in violation of a supply contract signed in 2006 that runs until April 2011.
RusAl said then that it was buying replacement oil coke from China and Azerbaijan. Subbotin alleged that the firm was importing oil coke at $600 per ton and buying it from LUKoil at $220 per ton.
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Gazprom has yet to follow up initial talks on joining in ConocoPhillips and BP's Denali gas pipeline project linking Alaska to the continental U.S., according to ConocoPhillips Chief Executive Officer James Mulva.
"From our perspective, there hasn't been any further discussion on this since that was announced as something of interest to Gazprom," Mulva said Wednesday in Moscow.
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told the Russian Economic Forum in St. Petersburg on June 5 that Gazprom approached BP and ConocoPhillips on joining the project.
"It doesn't mean it's not possible, but all our efforts on Denali have been directly with BP and the state of Alaska to do the work we have been doing, and hopefully we can work toward an open season in the next several years," Mulva said.
Discussions between the two companies on cooperation on liquefied natural gas also appear to be paused. Gazprom, Total and Statoil are developing a business model for the field.
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Presidente Hugo Chávez said Wednesday that wholesale gasoline sales by private companies in Venezuela will soon disappear after his congressional allies pass a bill nationalizing the business.
Under the measure, which received initial approval in the National Assembly on Wednesday, the state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, will control Venezuela's fuel distribution network but will not nationalize privately owned gas stations.
Dominated by Chávez allies, the National Assembly is expected to give its final approval to the legislation later this week.
Distributors, including subsidiaries of British Petroleum, Exxon Mobil and Chevron, had hoped to persuade the government not to seize total control of their businesses. But Chavez ruled out allowing private minority stakes, accusing operators of making money at the country's expense. "This was an old scheme through which some private sectors seized the nation's wealth without a drop of sweat," Chávez said. "That's what they defend."
The law gives distributors 60 days to negotiate the sale of their businesses to the government or face expropriation. It also forces distributors to sell storage tanks and gasoline pumps to PDVSA and to relinquish their brand names.
Congressman Luis Tascon, a former Chávez ally, said the pending legislation could cause shortages at gas stations because the government is not prepared to take full control over distribution.
"I'm warning the population that if this law is approved, we are going to see shortages in the short term," said Tascon, one of a handful of lawmakers who voted against the bill.
A PDVSA subsidiary controls 49 percent of fuel distribution in Venezuela, with the rest controlled by private companies, according to industry representatives.
Under Chávez, the government has nationalized Venezuela's largest telephone, electricity, steel and cement companies and has assumed majority control over four major oil projects.
Also Wednesday, the president said in talks with the Mexican ambassador, the government negotiated a deal that will let the Venezuelan authorities take full control of the local plants of the Mexican cement company Cemex.
He gave no details on what his government might pay for a majority stake in Cemex's three Venezuelan cement plants, 30 smaller concrete plants and shipping terminals.
Venezuela seized the facilities on Aug. 19 after compensation talks failed.
Jorge Pérez, a spokesman at Cemex headquarters in Monterrey, Mexico, confirmed the agreement with Venezuela but said compensation must still be determined in talks with the government.
Chávez also said that "time has run out" for an agreement on compensating the country's largest steel maker, Sidor, and that Venezuela will determine on its own what parent company's Ternium's shares in the company are worth.
Ternium is a subsidiary of the Argentine-Italian conglomerate Techint. It owned 60 percent of Sidor until it was nationalized in May.
Chavez added that the two sides disagree over a Ternium request that the government guarantee immunity from future claims by workers or others in Venezuela. Ternium officials were not available for comment.
China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., Asia's biggest oil refiner, is facing its most ``difficult'' year as government subsidies and higher state-set fuel prices are not enough to offset record crude costs.
Sinopec, as the company is known, will cut its 2008 capital expenditure by 8.2 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) due to ``severe operating pressures'' and ``cash-flow constraints,'' Chairman Su Shulin told a press conference in Hong Kong today. The third and fourth quarters will be the most challenging, Su said.
The shares of the Hong Kong listed company have slumped 33 percent this year as the government prevented the refiner from passing on higher crude costs to customers. China raised the prices of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel by at least 17 percent in June while oil prices almost doubled from a year earlier.
``With the refining business a money loser, insufficient cash flow is a real challenge for Sinopec,'' Grace Liu, an analyst with Guotai Junan Securities Hong Kong Co., said by telephone from the southern city of Shenzhen. ``Sinopec may improve in 2009 on potentially higher domestic fuel prices.''
Sinopec will continue to get subsidies in the third quarter for crude oil imports, Su said. The size of the subsidies, in the form of tax rebates, will be ``appropriate,'' Su said.
``Sinopec is facing unprecedented difficulties, which we believe is also temporary, and that hasn't changed the fundamentals of the company,'' Chief Financial Officer Dai Houliang told reporters. ``We are confident about the future.''
Postponing Projects First-half profit slumped 77 percent from a year earlier to 8.26 billion yuan, while refining losses reached 46 billion yuan in the first six months, Sinopec said in a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Aug. 24.
The Beijing-based refiner plans to cut expenditure on exploration and development by 1.9 billion yuan, reduce its spending on refineries by 1.7 billion yuan and lower investment in chemical plants by 4.6 billion yuan, Su said.
``If the situation doesn't improve in the third and fourth quarters, there will be more projects to be adjusted or delayed,'' Su told reporters today.
Sinopec will postpone the operational startup of its Puguang gas field in Sichuan by up to a year because of the plan to cut spending, company spokesman Huang Wensheng said after the press conference. The startup is also affected by the 7.9- magnitude quake that hit the southwestern province on May 12, Huang said.
The company has reduced its 2008 natural gas production target by 8 percent to 8.28 billion cubic meters, according to data from Sinopec's 2007 annual report and numbers provided by the company during a presentation today.
Fuel Imports Sinopec should cut fuel imports because of falling consumption, Su said today. China, the world's second-largest energy consumer after the U.S., boosted diesel and gasoline imports to a record last month to ensure supplies during the Beijing Olympics, which ended on Aug. 24. Diesel imports reached 970,000 metric tons and gasoline purchases 606,000 tons in July.
``Domestic demand for fuels is currently declining because of the recent oil-product price increases, the Olympics-related transportation restrictions, and because the seasonal peak in diesel demand from farmers has ended,'' he said.
China raised the prices of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel on June 20, the first increase since November last year. It is ``unclear'' if the government will increase fuel prices in the third quarter, Sinopec's Deputy Chief Financial Officer Liu Yun said today.
Tax Rebates The crude import subsidy Sinopec is getting in the third quarter will be less than that for the previous three months, Dai said. Crude prices have fallen and domestic fuel prices have gained, hence the smaller subsidy, he said. Benchmark crude oil in New York has retreated 21 percent from its all-time high of $147.27 a barrel on July 11.
``The way in which the government will subsidize imports of refined fuels in the third quarter will be the same as it did in the second quarter,'' Dai said.
The government paid Sinopec and PetroChina Co. rebates of 75 percent on the 17 percent tax levied on crude imports in the second quarter. Sinopec received 22.93 billion yuan in the quarter, the company said in the Aug. 24 statement.
PetroChina and Sinopec will get back about 40 percent of the tax in the third quarter, the South China Morning Post reported today, citing people it didn't identify. Sinopec was losing about 3,000 yuan on each ton of refined products because of the high crude costs, the company's spokesman Chen Ge said in May.
Windfall Tax The refiner has not received any word from the government on a possible adjustment in the `trigger level' of the windfall tax, Dai said.
Chinese oil producers pay a windfall tax on revenue from crude sold for more than $40 a barrel under a levy introduced in March 2006, based on a global crude price of about $60.
The wider the gap between the `trigger level' and actual selling prices, the more tax companies have to pay. Crude prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange were at $113.51 a barrel at 7:54 p.m. Hong Kong time, up 58 percent from a year earlier.
China Petrochemical Corp., the parent of Hong Kong-listed Sinopec, is making ``preliminary'' preparations with China National Petroleum Corp. for a joint bid for Petro-Tech Peruana in Peru, Su said.
Sinopec Group, as China Petrochemical is known, is also doing the same with China National Petroleum Corp. for an Angolan oil and gas asset, Su said, without elaborating.
``Our listed unit Sinopec will participate in some overseas exploration projects in the long term, but will not directly get involved in the near future,'' Su said.
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Reform of Mexico's state-run oil company continues to dominate Mexican politics. There have been numerous debates and referendums on a proposal by President Felipe Calderon to open the struggling oil monopoly to foreign investors. The left has denounced Calderon's plan as privatization of the nation's oil wealth, but Calderon and top officials within PEMEX say that without radical reform, Mexico will run out of oil in less than a decade.
Just about everyone who has weighed in on the PEMEX debate agrees that the Mexican oil monopoly is in crisis. Production of crude is falling dramatically. In July, output at Mexico's largest oil field, Cantarell, was off 37 percent from the year before.
PEMEX's exploration efforts have fallen flat, and by some estimates, what was once the world's sixth largest oil producer could exhaust its current reserves in less than seven years.
PEMEX's refining and pipeline infrastructure is also lagging far behind demand. Despite being a major oil exporter, Mexico imports 40 percent of its gasoline because Pemex does not have the capacity to refine its own crude. Oil revenues fund almost half of Mexico's federal budget, so the crisis at Pemex has become a crisis for the nation.
Delay In Reform Debate over President Felipe Calderon's reform plan has dragged on for months. Calderon's proposal, among other things, would allow foreign companies to drill in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico, something PEMEX does not currently have the technology to do on its own. Alberto Montoya Martin del Campo, a professor of political and social science at the Iberoamericana University, testified recently before the Energy Commitee of the Mexican Senate and said PEMEX is not the problem.
Del Campo said the problem is that for the past two decades, various administrations have used the state-run company as a cash cow and failed to reinvest in new infrastructure and exploration. He says the billions of dollars generated by Pemex has been a stagnating rather than a stimulating force on Mexico's economy.
All of this has blocked the country from becoming an economic power, del Campo says. He went on to argue that the reforms proposed by Calderon are too narrow and won't significantly change the oil company.
Others, however, say Calderon's plan goes too far and allows too much foreign involvement in Mexican oil.
"We believe the proposal of Calderon is a failure," says Sen. Graco Ramirez of the left-wing PRD, the Party of the Democratic Revolution. "It will not advance, and it will not be approved because the PRD and the PRI [the former ruling party] are not going to support the privatization of refineries and pipelines."
Both the PRI and the PRD have now put forward their own rival reform plans.
The Pemex debate has, in many ways, been an act of political theater. Odon de Buen, an energy analyst in Mexico City, says the debate has been useful in that it has made politicians and ordinary people think about Mexico's looming energy crisis.
But, he says, the debate can't go on forever.
"Every month, every year that we don't agree postpones the solution," de Buen says. "So we may be running out of oil before we get to what this reform is promising."
And de Buen says the debate about PEMEX has focused far too much on fossil fuels. De Buen and some others are arguing that this is an opportunity for Mexico to look at its energy needs for the coming decades, and they want more focus to be placed on developing alternative energy sources. Source: NPR|by Jason Beaubien
Iraq and China will sign a deal next week to develop the Ahdab oil field, restoring an agreement that was canceled after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and is worth $1.2 billion, an Iraqi spokesman said Thursday.
The governor of Wasit province, where the billion-barrel field is located, left Wednesday for China to join Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani at the ceremony in the next few days, provincial spokesman Majid al-Atabi said.
"The governor will discuss the logistic cooperation with the Chinese company, especially the security side," al-Atabi told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
The Shiite-dominated Wasit province, about 100 miles, or 160 kilometers, southeast of Baghdad, has been the scene of sporadic attacks since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Saddam Hussein's regime defied United Nations sanctions that limited direct dealings with Iraq's oil industry and signed a deal in 1997 with the state-owned China National Petroleum. That contract gave a subsidiary of the Chinese company concessions to develop the field on a production-sharing basis for 22 years. The new agreement will be a service contract, under which China will not be a partner in profits and instead will be paid for its work.
Once the contract is signed, it will be the first Saddam-era oil deal to be honored by the new Iraqi government. Iraq sits on more than 115 billion barrels of oil, but decades of wars, U.N. sanctions, violence and sabotage have battered its oil industry.
As security improves, Iraq is trying to bring in foreign companies to help increase crude output from the current 2.5 million barrels a day to 3 million barrels a day by the end of 2008, and 4.5 million barrels a day by the end of 2013.
A number of companies say they signed deals with Saddam's regime and demand that those be honored, or the countries involved be given priority on new agreements.
The ministry has consistently denied giving any advantage to companies with which Saddam signed deals, instead insisting that oil and gas fields and exploration blocks will be offered up for bids.
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Wednesday was the final state plebiscites on Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s energy sector reform, which would see more private participation in the oil sector. Votes have been held, or are planned, in 22 states, organised by the centre-left opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), even though their legal status remains ambiguous -- Mexico’s constitution does not make provision for referendums or plebiscites, though they are allowed under local legislation.
Votes held so far have strongly opposed reform -- hardly surprising, given that turnouts have been low and those voting overwhelmingly have been supporters of the PRD. The party has claimed that the law is against Mexico’s constitution, which stipulates that oil must remain in the public sector, and has sought to stall debate in Congress. The government insists that plebiscites are non-binding, and their practical impact in the legislature will be relatively limited. Nonetheless, they will give the PRD -- and particularly its defeated 2006 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- a strong argument to use in lobbying against the new law, as well as a focus around which to mobilise supporters, particularly in Mexico City. Large anti-government demonstrations now are likely, potentially targeting key infrastructure in the capital and triggering tense clashes with security forces.
Political wrangling Despite protests, and plans for direct action by PRD legislators, it is through the ordinary channels of the legislature that the fate of energy reform will be decided. Indeed, while plebiscites and other PRD moves to stall reforms have generated headlines, the ruling National Action Party (PAN) has continued to negotiate with Mexico’s main opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) over the details of reform:
The PAN does not enjoy an overall majority in either house of the legislature and needs PRI votes to pass laws.
Calderon’s strategy throughout his term has been to negotiate support for legislation before introducing it.
The case of energy reform is no different, but PRI support has wavered, as the party seeks to reconcile internal debates on the issue, and assert itself as a powerful political force.
The PRI in recent weeks has gained the upper hand in talks, introducing its own reform proposals, which are even tamer than Calderon’s already relatively limited proposals. Meanwhile, there is little prospect of Congress approving legislation in the immediate future, and delays make the Calderon administration appear weak.
Reform likely Energy sector reform ultimately is likely to be approved. While this will represent a triumph for Calderon, succeeding where his predecessor, Vicente Fox (2000-06) consistently failed, the PRI will succeed in extracting significant concessions from the government, both on reform itself and a range of other legislative initiatives. Calderon will also have spent a great deal of political capital on relatively tame oil sector reforms, at a time when other issues are increasingly pressing, such as:
rising murder rates as a result of drug gang activities;
the impact of economic slowdown on Mexican manufacturing; and
falling remittances from Mexicans in the United States to relatives at home.
Calderon’s victory may prove to be hollow, which could hamper the rest of his term, and his legacy beyond.
The prospect of further energy price rises this winter heightened as wholesale gas prices soared by 15pc in one day after a leak was detected in a key Norwegian pipeline. As a result, British consumers, who have already seen gas bills rise by as much as 35pc of late, could end up paying even more in the coming months.
The price increase in the wholesale markets was a result of news that Norway's Statoil Hydro had found a leak in the pipeline from its Kvitebjoern platform in the Norwegian North Sea to its Kollsnes gas treatment facility outside Bergen.
The company said a "small leak" was discovered during a routine inspection of the pipeline, in the same place where it was damaged last autumn, which had since been temporarily repaired.
In a statement, Statoil added that it was now considering when the pipeline could be re-opened, but stressed that its gas customers were "not likely to be affected by the incident".
However, its reassurance was not enough to calm the gas markets, with the price of winter gas surging by 15pc to an intra-day high of 104p per therm, above the record highs seen in June this year, and around double the price this time last year.
"There's a lot of panic and short covering going on," one gas trader admitted.
The events in the Norwegian gas market are important to Britain because the country remains such a significant source of gas to the UK, which now imports around 40pc of gas due to dwindling North Sea reserves.
Paralysis seen on energy. Politics and energy go hand in hand, but often to the detriment of Americans who want solutions and get only "partisan paralysis," former Shell Oil Co. President John Hofmeister said Monday.
Hofmeister joined several other energy executives and experts at an energy policy forum in Houston sponsored by U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands.
Having retired from Shell on July 1, Hofmeister founded a nonprofit policy advocacy firm, Citizens for Affordable Energy, to promote comprehensive, nonpartisan policy to shore up the nation's energy security.
"The politicization of energy is only beneficial to those running for office," leaving Americans listening to debate that rarely produces effective policy, Hofmeister said.
"If our national leadership cannot come to grips with a problem of this severity, there's something wrong with the process and the people," he said.
Issues that get mired in political back-and-forth, forum participants said, include expansion of offshore drilling to areas currently off limits and construction of new transmission lines across states to handle more wind and solar electricity generation.
Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy fellow at Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, said energy security remains an urgent issue even though crude futures have fallen more than 20 percent in recent weeks from a high near $150 a barrel and gasoline has dropped from more than $4 a gallon.
On Monday, light, sweet crude for September delivery closed down 90 cents at $112.87. Regular gasoline sold for an average $3.74 a gallon nationwide, down 35 cents in a month, AAA reported. The average in Houston was $3.54, compared with $3.96 a month ago.
The U.S. reacted to the higher prices this summer in part by reducing demand. Last week the Federal Highway Administration said U.S. drivers were on the road in June for 12.2 billion fewer miles than a year ago, a 4.7 percent decline.
"Every time the price drops, Americans just say, 'OK, the problem is solved,' " Jaffe said. "Just having prices ease up a little bit at the pump did not solve the problem."
She noted that prices reached this year's highs without disruptions of supply from the Middle East or Russia. If drivers react to the recent softening of prices by falling back into old patterns, "we'll be right back to the pump price that made you uncomfortable originally," she said.
Brady added that growing global demand and tight supplies continue, and that other factors contributed to the recent softer prices. These include a strengthening dollar, speculation and market reaction to the slowing U.S. economy.
"The price drop doesn't change the fundamental problems" of U.S. dependence on foreign oil, growing demand in burgeoning economies such as China and India, tight supply and falling production, Brady said.
Democrats opposed to expanded offshore drilling say oil companies should drill on 68 million acres of federal lands and waters they already lease but aren't developing.
But Stuart Strife, vice president of exploration for Anadarko Petroleum Corp., said that the more area is available for exploration, the better chance companies have of striking oil.
Hofmeister noted that the transportation industry relies on oil, from trucking and airlines to personal vehicles and shipping. Also, oil is so ubiquitous that it's in asphalt, building materials such as shingles, cosmetics, plastics and other materials people use every day.
A longtime advocate of energy policy that promotes a wide variety of energy sources, from oil and gas to hydrogen, biofuels, wind, solar and nuclear, Hofmeister said the nation can't just switch from petroleum.
Infrastructure must be built, such as gasoline stations with new storage tanks that hold compressed natural gas for gas-fired cars or E-85 pumps for fuel that is 85 percent ethanol.
"It's in the infrastructure of your daily life," he said of petroleum. "It's unrealistic to suggest that alternatives are right around the corner when the infrastructure is not there."
Alternatives will likely start replacing oil and gas over the next two decades, Hofmeister said.
"That's different than a two- to four-year election cycle," he said.
Perhaps only during a summer in which the price for a barrel of oil has traveled between a more than $30 span could a shooting war in the oil-rich Caspian region already be priced in by traders on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Western leaders engaged in intense diplomacy Friday to persuade Russia to pull troops out of Georgia, but regional tensions soared after a top Russian general warned that Poland could face attack over its missile defense deal with the United States.
Even if it were never far from anyone's mind, Moscow's influence over oil and natural gas reserves in the region came roaring to the forefront when it sent armored columns into neighboring Georgia, which controls key pipelines that deliver crude from Central Asia.
But so far, there is little evidence that the conflict has stemmed the slide in crude prices. On Friday, with Russian troops still in control of strategic cities like Gori, light, sweet crude for September delivery fell $1.24 to settle at $113.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after falling to $111.34, its lowest price since May 2 and more than $35 — or 24 percent — below its July 11 trading record above $147.
Part of the reason, analysts said, is that traders have already priced in a large amount of geopolitical risk into the market. In addition, prices already had plenty of downward momentum after weeks of declines, making it harder for market bulls to spark a rally.
Another factor is that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, by far the largest of three crude oil pipelines that pass through Georgia, had been shut down before fighting broke out because of an apparently unrelated fire on a segment of the conduit in Turkey.
Yet Kurdish separatist rebels took responsibility for the sabotage.
And even before the events in Georgia, the Russian market had already suffered from the continuing struggle between Russian oligarchs and Britain's BP at their joint company, TNK-BP.
Russia exports more oil than any country except Saudi Arabia and is the world's leading producer of natural gas.
Peter Zeihan, vice president of analysis at Austin-based geopolitical research firm Stratfor, said the conflict highlighted how quickly Russia is able to gain control of the key pipelines in Georgia.
Crude oil rose for the first time in three days in New York as a storm near Cuba prompted evacuations from rigs and production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tropical Storm Fay, with maximum sustained winds of about 50 miles (80 kilometers) an hour, was centered 200 miles southeast of Havana, Cuba at 8 p.m. New York time and may strengthen to a hurricane before striking Florida's northwestern coast Aug. 19, the National Hurricane Center said. Gains were limited on speculation slowing U.S. economic growth will trim fuel demand.
``We would have to see oil prices spike'' if Fay veers west toward Louisiana, Peter Beutel, president of energy consultant Cameron Hanover Inc. in New Canaan, Connecticut, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. ``But I don't think they'll be able to hold on to any spike, particularly if damage is minimal.''
Crude oil for September delivery rose as much as 98 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $114.75 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was trading at $114.73 at 8:35 a.m. in Singapore. The contract earlier fell as low as $113.25.
Brent crude for October settlement rose as much as 63 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $113.18 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Europe exchange at the same time.
The northern Gulf of Mexico accounts for more than a fifth of U.S. oil production.
Storms routinely disrupt tanker traffic and production in the region in the North Atlantic hurricane season running June through November. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wrecked platforms and refineries around New Orleans, prompting an international release of fuel from reserve stockpiles.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc evacuated about 360 non-essential staff from the eastern Gulf the past two days. Production hasn't been affected. Transocean Inc., the world's largest offshore oil driller, said it evacuated 130 workers and suspended operations at several rigs in the Gulf as a precaution because of the storm.
New York oil futures fell 1.1 percent to settle at $113.77 on Aug. 15. Earlier in the session it touched $111.34, a 15-week- low, as the dollar rose for a fifth week against the euro and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries warned of risks to world demand from the slowing global economy.
A report tomorrow will probably show home building in the U.S., the world's largest oil consumer, fell to the lowest pace in 17 years in July amid rising borrowing costs and record foreclosures.
Sentiment has turned bearish and oil's direction is being driven by the dollar, Beutel said. A weak housing report will reinforce investor expectations of slowing demand, while a strong number may bring forward the prospect of a rate-rise by the Federal Reserve, further supporting the dollar, Beutel said.
The dollar rose 2.2 percent against the euro last week. It was at $1.4717 in early Asian trading, from $1.4687 late in New York last week.
An increase of 300,000 bpd on collective production. Platts, the world's leading provider of energy information, said in its latest report that the OPEC-12, excluding Iraq, exceeded their 29.673 million bpd target by 637,000 bpd. An increase in the daily production of 390,000 bpd by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and Kuwait was said to be offset by shortfalls in Libyan and Iraqi outputs.
The biggest increase in OPEC production came from Saudi Arabia which increased output from 9.45 million bpd to 9.7 bpd as it had pledged to do. Nigeria increased its crude oil output by 100,000 bpd in July to an average of 1.9 million bpd.
Libyan output volume, which had declined in May and June because of repair work on Total’s al-Jurf field, decreased further in July after maintenance work commenced on the Waha-Defa oil pipeline.
Iraqi crude production was down by 30,000 bpd in July to 2.46 million bpd.
“It’s notable that suddenly, with output rising, OPEC officials are concerned about adherence to quotas and oversupply,” said Platts Global Director of Oil John Kingston.
“However, as we look toward the fourth quarter of the year, barring a more significant decline in demand, the world is going to need OPEC oil to avoid a larger inventory draw than is normal for the fourth quarter. Pulling inventories at that rate would be very bullish for prices.”
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Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries (RIL) should fork out $17 billion in cash if it fails to honour its commitment to supply gas to Reliance Natural Resources (RNRL), according to RNRL counsel Mukul Rohatgi.
Mr Rohatgi, while arguing his case at the Bombay High Court on Tuesday, said, Reliance Industries is committed to supply 28 million metric standard cubic metres per day (mmscmd) of gas at $2.34 per million metric British thermal unit (mmBtu) for 17 years to RNRL. If Reliance Industries fails to do so, it will have to compensate with money, he said. The bone of contention between the Ambani brothers lies in the price and quantity of gas to be supplied from RIL’s KG basin gas fields to RNRL, which requires the gas to feed its power plant at Dadri. The case has been adjourned till August 21.
Along with Mr Rohatgi, Ram Jethmalani and Mahesh Jethmalani represented RNRL, while Milind Sathe and Suresh Gupte appeared for Reliance Industries on Tuesday. RIL’s counsel Mr Sathe informed the court that Reliance Industries did not have enough proven reserves to supply 28 mmscmd of gas to RNRL.
Mr Jethmalani said RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani should be “criminally prosecuted for breach of trust and forgery.” He said: “Anil Ambani resigned from the Reliance Industries board on July 18, 2005, and the demerged companies including RNRL were handed over to ADAG on February 7, 2006.
Prior to this, Reliance Industries had signed an agreement on January 12, 2006, with demerged companies when they were under its control. This is breach of trust as RIL was acting as trustee for the demerged companies. A trustee cannot sign an agreement to his benefit.”
On the enforceability of the family agreement, Mr Jethmalani said: “There is no dispute on the existence of an MoU or the family agreement. In fact their mother Kokilaben had issued a media statement and it was published by RIL on June 18, 2005.
The RIL board took Kokilaben’s statement on record and decided to reorganise Reliance Industries’s businesses based upon Kokilaben’s directions. So, Reliance Industries’s claim that MoU is in the private domain and RIL has no knowledge of the contents of MoU and hence MoU not being binding on RIL is not correct.”
Reliance Industries counsel Harish Salve had previously argued that the MoU is among the Ambani brothers and that it was “a piece of trash as far as Reliance Industries is concerned”.
Mr Jethmalani said: “Reliance Industries has submitted wrong affidavit in court saying Mukesh Ambani did not participate in the June 18 board meeting. The minutes of the board meeting showed his presence. In fact, he was the chairman of the meeting. He (Mukesh Ambani) cannot claim that he is not aware of the MoU.
If Mukesh Ambani knows, the entire company knows about it. As per the doctrine of identification, which is well recognised by Indian courts, Mukesh Ambani’s knowledge of the MoU shall be deemed to be the knowledge of Reliance Industries.”
Earlier, Mr Jethmalani sought the court to intervene for an expeditious implementation of the demerger scheme which laid down the details of the gas supply agreement.
“The demerger scheme, which was sanctioned under Section 391 of the Companies Act, is a statutory contract and no court can refuse to implement it. The Act confers very wide and unrestricted powers on the court to supervise and ensure proper implementation of the scheme,” argued Mr Jethmalani.
This was quite contrary to Reliance Industries counsel Mr Salve’s submission in court, citing that any directions by the court with respect to the scheme will mean corporate democracy going to the dogs as the court has no jurisdiction in altering the demerger scheme.
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