Bodman: US Shtokman Role 'Useful, But Not Imperative'

HOUSTON May 20, 2006 (Dow Jones Commodities News Select via Comtex)

U.S. participation in a closely watched Russian natural gas project would be "useful," but isn't "imperative" to the U.S., or to the U.S. companies that are hoping to land the deal, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said Saturday.

In recent weeks, Russia's OAO Gazprom (GSPBEX.RS) has repeatedly delayed announcing foreign partners on the giant, multi-billion effort to develop the Shtokman field. U.S. oil majors Chevron Corp. (CVX) and ConocoPhillips (COP) are competing with three European companies for job.

"I think it would be useful, but I don't think it's imperative," Bodman said of the importance that Gazprom select at least one U.S. company. Bodman spoke with Dow Jones Newswires before delivering a commencement address Saturday at the South Texas College of Law.

"I'm hopeful it will happen," he said. "But if it doesn't happen, I'm sure they'll find other opportunities."

A Kremlin spokesman this week linked Gazprom's decision on Shtokman to U.S. resistance to Russian entry into the World Trade Organization. The Kremlin also has bristled at recent criticism of Russia by Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials. Gazprom, of which the Russian government is the majority-owner, has denied a political link to the Shtokman decision.

"I have not seen any indication of any blow-back" in Russia in response to the Bush administration criticism, said Bodman, who said ConocoPhillips and Chevron haven't expressed concerns about the Bush administration's approach.

"I meet regularly with them, and I have not had any complaints from them about how we're handling it," said the energy secretary, who has prodded Russia to announce a decision ahead of the G-8 meeting in mid-July.

"They have their own decision-making process," Bodman said of Russia. "Often, in dealing with the Russians, they come close to making a decision, and then the world changes and so they want to add other factors to it."

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