Gazprom CEO to Meet ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco Next Week

Alexei Miller, chief executive of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, will meet next week with ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco executives regarding their possible participation in the development of a huge natural gas field in the Barents Sea, a Gazprom spokesman said.

Gazprom's head of communications Sergei Kupriyanov told journalists that Gazprom is looking first and foremost for a supply deal to underpin around $10 billion of necessary investments in the Shtokmanov field, which holds an estimated 3.2 trillion cubic meters of gas.

"If we have a contract for supply, the investment question will largely solve itself," Kupriyanov said.

Gazprom last week signed a memorandum of understanding with Norway's Statoil outlining future cooperation on development of the Shtokmanov project, along with Statoil's Snoehvit field and the Prirazlomnoye field, another Barents project, which will become a Gazprom asset when it merges with Rosneft, the current license-holder.

However, the identity of Shtokmanov's future developers is far from settled yet.

"We are trying to create a little competition among potential partners," Kupriyanov said.

The Energy and Industry Ministry said earlier this year that ChevronTexaco was willing to invest "up to $10 billion" in Russia, following a meeting between chairman David O'Reilly and Minister Viktor Khristenko. It didn't specified which projects O'Reilly was referring to.

Miller's visit to the U.S., from Sept 21-23, will also include a meeting with U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.

Later in the briefing, Kupriyanov stressed that he expects a complete removal of restrictions on foreigners trading in Gazprom shares, once its merger with Rosneft is completed.

"As far as we understand, there can be no talk of quotas (on foreign ownership)," Kupriyanov said.

"I don't see any basis for any kind of additional restrictions."

Under government plans announced Tuesday, the Russian state will raise its direct stake in Gazprom from 39.3% to over 50% by merging it with 100% state-owned Rosneft.

Kupriyanov said this mechanism is "fully adequate" to guarantee the state effective control of the company. His comments reinforce similar ones made by minister for economic development and trade German Gref late Thursday.

Gazprom's management Thursday proposed to change the company's charter at an extraordinary shareholders' meeting Sept. 28, which would allow the merger to proceed without forcing the government to buy out any other shareholders.

Kupriyanov repeated statements made by Miller at a press conference Tuesday, dismissing the notion that the merged company would buy or otherwise receive assets from YUKOS if, and when, they are sold.

The Shtokmanov project is just one of a number of projects where Gazprom intends to work jointly with international majors in future.

Kupriyanov said Gazprom is conducting talks with Royal Dutch/Shell over its entry into the Shell-led Sakhalin-2 project off Russia's Pacific coast.

Shell, for its part, has long declared its desire to develop the Neokomskoye part of the Zapolyarnoye field in Russia's far north.

Gazprom is eager to keep control of all Russian gas exports, fearing that gas-to-gas competition for export markets would erode prices. Although it now breaks even on the domestic market, Gazprom needs high export prices to generate cash flow for further investments.

Kupriyanov said the Sakhalin-2 project was "much more attractive" than Kovykta, a field in eastern Siberia licensed for development by a consortium led by TNK-BP (TNKB.YY), the joint venture that incorporates BP PLC's assets in Russia.

"We are very skeptical about this project," Kupriyanov said. He noted that a planned pipeline route to China goes through a national park "and will hardly be approved by the authorities," and also expressed concern about having only one buyer for the gas.

Gazprom's last single-buyer project, the Blue Stream pipeline developed with Turkey's Botas, has been a major financial disappointment due to huge overestimates of Turkey's demand for gas.

Regarding other strategic partnerships, Kupriyanov said Gazprom will announce more details about projects it intends to pursue with E.On, the German utility which owns over 5% in Gazprom through its Ruhrgas unit. The list of projects will include gas-fired power stations to be built both in Russia and abroad.

Gazprom has so far accumulated a stake of around 16% in Moscow utility OAO Mosenergo (MSNG.RS), which is widely considered by analysts as the most likely vehicle through which Gazprom will pursue its interest in electricity generation.

Kupriyanov also noted that Gazprom management has now fully accepted the need to create separate accounts for its production, transport and supply operations, and that the first set of accounts presented may be for 2005.