There is much chattering going on in the oil and gas press regarding the BP-Rosneft exploration deal, announced last week, which will see BP take a 9% stake in Rosneft and Rosneft a 5% stake in BP. This initially took me by surprise, especially considering the treatment handed out to BP’s CEO Bob Dudley when he was CEO of TNK-BP back in July 2008, which effectively saw him run out of Russia. Now I have no idea what the actual reasons are behind BP chancing its arm in Russia for the third time (it got badly burned in the 1990s as well), but here’s my take on it.
Firstly, and most obviously, BP needs to take a positive forward step. Currently it is best known for the Macondo well blowout which cost the company $30bn, its reputation in the US and around the world, and its CEO his job. BP badly needed some press which would re-establish it as a global supermajor in the eyes of investors and the media. This partnership with Rosneft to some extent achieves that (BP’s share price rose 2% on news of the deal).
Secondly, like it or not, BP needs Russia probably more than Russia needs BP, and this was plainly obvious during the debacle over TNK-BP two years ago. Page 29 of BP’s 2009 annual review shows that Russia accounts for a third of their crude production, and TNK-BP about 20% of the supermajor’s proven reserves. BP stayed in Russia because it had little alternative, and given how wedded the company is to Russia anyway, it probably made as much sense to put the whole house on Russia as it did to try to increase its presence elsewhere. There are few other regions where a company can quickly and significantly add to its production and reserves figures, and the only other area where it is fully committed is the USA (accounting for a quarter of its crude production) and the Macondo incident has left them clinging onto their American operations by the skin of their teeth and in no position to increase them.
Some commentators have likened this new deal as the last desperate throw of a gambler’s dice, which may well prove to be accurate. If it pays off, BP stand to reap rewards which will turn their competitors green with envy, but thus far BP has done little to demonstrate that it truly understands Russia or the mentality with which the place is run (actually, they also failed to understand the US and the mentality with which it is run, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in this latest venture). Perhaps BP has given some serious thought to its previous upsets in Russia and has a clear game plan to avoid repeating them? But I doubt it. I expect sooner or later BP will run into precisely the same troubles which has plagued it, and everyone else, in Russia countless times before.
So what’s in it for Rosneft? For starters, they get whatever experience BP brings with them from their Prudhoe Bay operations, which is in the Arctic albeit onshore. Their projects will get a veneer of respectibility in the eyes of investors, who will be reassured by the presence of a western supermajor. And they are probably somewhat confident that should they decide to start giving BP the runaround after it has committed considerable cash, time, and resources into a project there will be few parties shedding tears, least of all the Americans. A weakened BP is probably an attractive prospect for a Russian state-owned oil company to partner, and it would be most interesting to know who approached whom with the initial offer. I would guess that it was Rosneft which identified BP as an outfit with expertise and capital which was in no position to give them any trouble, thus ensuring the benefit will be in one direction only; and BP, with few alternatives, has accepted and will hope for the best. Interestingly, BP and Rosneft were partners on the Sakhalin 5 development in a joint venture called Elvari Neftegas, but after preliminary exploration activities the development was halted, supposedly because the tax regime in place at the time was unfavourable. It would be interesting to see what part, if any, this previous joint venture played in the decision to form this new agreement.
Whatever happened, it looks as though BP didn’t bother to consult its partners in TNK-BP:
BP’s share swap and Arctic exploration deal with Rosneft is reportedly under scrutiny by partners in the UK supermajor’s Russian joint venture TNK-BP over whether it violates the terms of their partnership.
Alfa-Access-Renova, the investment vehicle through which a group of Russian-connected oligarchs holds a 50% stake in TNK-BP, had understood the joint venture agreement meant BP would only pursue new ventures in Russia via TNK-BP, according to UK newspapers The Times and Financial Times.
Which would be a somewhat embarrassing oversight given Bob Dudley probably knows the aforementioned oligarchs a lot better than he would perhaps like.
Also blubbering are US politicians:
BP PLC has hailed its $16 billion share swap with state-owned Russian oil giant OAO Rosneft as a ground-breaking maneuver in the oil industry, but the deal already has drawn criticism in Washington over its potential implications for U.S. national security.
Yet the Rosneft tie-up could end up exacerbating BP’s already fraught relations with U.S. authorities. Already, some U.S. politicians have expressed concern about the national security implications of a share swap between a Kremlin-controlled oil firm and a company that in 2009 was the top supplier of petroleum to the U.S. military.
Rep. Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, called for the deal to be analyzed by the Committee on Foreign Investment, a branch of the Treasury Department.
“BP once stood for British Petroleum,” he said. “With this deal, it now stands for Bolshoi Petroleum.”
Republican Congressman Michael Burgess, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also said the deal “deserves some analysis and scrutiny.”
Well, Bolshoi Petroleum it may now be, but the Russian phrase which springs to mind is “Tuffska shitski”. During the course of the Macondo well incident, US politicians took every opportunity to do as much damage as possible to BP both in the US and globally, and repeatedly threatened to impose crippling fines on the company long before the causes of the incident were known, made cash demands from the company which had no legal basis whatsoever, made noises about nationalising BP’s American assets and engaged in no small amount of ignorant Brit-bashing to boot. What did these idiots think was going to happen? They effectively forced BP into looking elsewhere to consolidate their position and recover, and now they are complaining about the choice of partner BP has made. As is said in the WSJ article, and I mentioned earlier:
The deal entrenches BP’s position in Russia, at a time when the Gulf spill has raised doubts about the company’s ability to grow in the U.S.
Quite. Rather than remain forever in a state of humiliation in front of panels of ignorant American politicians, BP has attempted to bounce back by exercising probably the only option it had left. That this may now mean the US has lost a reliable, politically safe energy provider leaving its energy security partially in the hands of an unfriendly foreign entity is of little concern to Russia or BP. The blame for this lies entirely with Obama and his team of rent-a-gobs who didn’t know when to stop hammering BP and were more interested in political posturing than governance. America’s loss, despite the many faults of BP, is Russia’s gain.