THE KEY NUMBER we don’t know in China’s insert-your-own-very-large-number-here energy deal with Russia is the unit price state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) will be paying. CNPC has finally signed the agreement to buy up to 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from Gazprom for 30 years starting in 2018 (a new pipeline has to be built first). This Bystander hazards a safe guess that Beijing has got itself a very good deal.
The sale has always been necessary for Moscow to wean itself off its dependence on European markets for its energy sales, but merely convenient for Beijing, which has several sources other than Eastern Siberia from which it can meet its growing need for energy, especially cleaner energy than can be generated from its indigenous coal. After 10 years of negotiations between CNPC and Gazprom that have mainly been haggling over the formula that will determine the pricing, all that has changed is the situation in Ukraine. That has given a renewed sense of urgency to Russia’s need to secure non-European markets, while President Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit to China provides the platform from which to announce the deal with political benefits to both himself and his host. President Xi Jinping and CNPC’s chairman Zhou Jiping will have taken full advantage of that.
Gazprom’s decision to put off construction of a $38 billion trans-Siberian gas pipeline for a year will trouble Moscow more than Beijing. The delay is because the two countries continue to be apart on pricing for new Russian gas exports to China.
China, for all its energy hunger, is the more ready of the two to wait to get the pricing it wants on the 38 billion cubic meters of gas it has agreed to buy annually from Gazprom. Russia, on the other hand, is anxious to get its oil and gas companies selling to Asia to cut their reliance on European markets.
The International Energy Agency recently estimated that China will absorb one-third of new LNG supplies worldwide over the next five years as its demand grows by 12% a year. In June, Rosneft signed a contract to supply 2.6 billion barrels of crude oil to China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) over the next 25 years, with CNPC also taking its first stake in a Russian gas-export project, 20% of Novatek’s Yamal LNG fields. Novatek, as Russia’s second-largest gas producer, is a Gazprom rival. CNPC will import 4 billion cubic meters of gas a year under its deal, likely starting in 2016.
Earlier this week, CNPC secured a deal to buy more gas from Turkmenistan. State-owned TurkmenGas will up its annual sales from 40 billion cubic meters a year to 65 billion cubic meters a year by 2020. China last year imported 20 billion cubic meters from Turkmenistan. The extra 25 billion cubic meters will come from opening up the second phase of TurkmenGas’s giant Galkynysh field. CNPC will do the development which is being paid for with Chinese financing. Gazprom can wait.