The long-troubled negotiations over China’s purchases of Russian oil have reportedly taken a step forward. Russian press reports say a new deal ensures a below-market price for China’s oil imports from East Siberia. Russia’s largest state-controlled oil company, Rosneft, and the pipeline monopoly, Transneft, are to give China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) a $1.50 a barrel discount on the oil it gets via the East Siberian-Pacific Ocean pipeline relative to the market price of Russian oil shipped to other buyers from the Pacific Ocean port of Kozmino.
China receives the vast majority of its Russian oil via a spur on the pipeline from Skovorodino to Daqing, shown above, that opened in January, 2011. But it is starting to buy Kozmino cargoes as an alternative to Iranian oil. Rosneft reportedly says the deal will cost the Russian side $3 billion a year in revenue. That seems haggling hyperbole, rather than a real number. The arithmetic suggests $3 billion over the life of the contract would be closer to the mark. Whatever the true figure, the Russians may just have to write it off as the cost of ending the dispute. China funded the building of the pipeline with a $25 billion loan but claimed Transneft overcharged for transport costs. These are part of the formula for pricing the oil with which the loan is to be repaid at a rate of 15 million tonnes of crude a year from 2011 to 2030.
The two countries still have outstanding negotiations over natural gas. Price is a point of contention in those discussions, too. However, there has been agreement that Russia will start supplying China with Eastern Siberian gas in 2015.
The agreement signed with Russia after the latest round of Sino-Russian energy cooperation talks just concluded in Moscow papers over some wide cracks. For one, there doesn’t seem to be much more to the agreement than that the two countries will continue to try to conclude their long running discussions over two long-term gas-supply deals. Xinhua’s report is all cheer and no content.
What the two sides have been talking about, seemingly since when the Siberian forests that became the oil and gas were still forests, is to expand an outline agreement under which from 2015 Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom would supply 30 billion cubic meters a year–roughly one-third of China’s 2009 consumption and a quarter of Russia’s total exports–to more than double the volume, supplied via two direct pipelines from Siberia to western and central China. The formula for determining the price has been the main sticking point.
Been there, done that, got nowhere. Pricing is at the heart of the dispute over the Russian oil China has recently started getting via the Daqing spur to Russia’s East Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline (ESPO). The deliveries are the result of $25 billion-worth of loans in 2009 from China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) and the China Development Bank to the energy company Rosneft and the state-owned pipeline monopoly Transneft that was to be repaid in oil, expected to be 15m tonnes a year (150,000 b/d) for 20 years starting this year.
The oil started flowing at the start of the year, but since then China has accused Russia of overcharging it for the deliveries, and demanded more oil as a make-up, while Russia said China was way underpaying given market conditions. The pricing formula has broken China’s way and Russia can sell to Japanese, South Korean and American customers far more profitably. It certainly has no intent to double up on its losses supplying China. Transneft has threatened to sue CNPC in court. Hard ball meets hard ball.
Meanwhile, the deliveries continue at their original levels. Last month CNPC and Rosneft broke ground for a joint-venture oil refinery in Tianjin that will be able to refine 260,000 barrels a day and is due to start operations in late 2013.
On the gas front, China’s increasing ability to source domestically and from Central Asia and some doubts about Gazprom’s capacity to deliver the extra gas has strengthened Beijing’s negotiating hand, while the higher prices Russia can get for its gas in Europe make Moscow in no hurry to resolve the issue, let alone buckle. Vice Premier Wang Qishan said after the Moscow that China “hopes the two sides could make further essential progress in gas talks as soon as possible and that the two sides exchanged views and plans on future energy cooperation, demonstrating mutual trust as well as candid and pragmatic spirit of cooperation between China and Russia”. Which pretty much says there was no progress.
Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, is due in Beijing at the start of next week for a state visit during which energy deals between the two countries will be on the agenda, particularly kicking on a stalled long-term deal for Russia to supply China with natural gas. The two countries are already striking deals on several energy fronts — coal, oil, atomic power and renewable energies, as well as natural gas — as Moscow seeks to expand its sales to what is now the world’s largest energy consumer and Beijing seeks stable long-term supplies to meet its needs.
At the end of August, a Chinese spur to Russia’s Siberian Pacific Ocean pipeline was completed, part of a 20-year $25 billion loans-for-oil deal between struck in 2008 between China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, and its largest pipeline operator, Transneft. Earlier last month, China said it would lend Russia an additional $6 billion repayable in increased coal supplies over the next 25 years. This week, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin has been in Tianjin for an annual bilateral meeting on energy, during which three specific oil and coal deals were signed.
Sechin and his Chinese counterpart, Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, also found time to attend a foundation-laying ceremony for the centerpiece of the oil deal, a new $5 billion joint venture refinery that will be 49% owned by Rosneft, 51% by CNPC. Rosneft will supply some two-thirds of the 10 million metric tons of crude a year that will be processed by the Tianjin refinery. This will be the first time a foreign oil company has had such a significant presence this far downstream in the Chinese oil industry, and that will be extended in a planned second stage of at least 500 retail gas stations in China.
The 2008 loans-for-oil deal lets China import 300,000 barrels a day of Russian oil for 20 years starting in 2011 on pricing terms favorable to the Chinese side. Russia is hoping that any natural gas deal it can strike during Medvedev’s visit won’t be so one-sided, though the precedents aren’t encouraging. Late last year, tentative agreement was reached to build two gas pipelines with the capacity to deliver 68 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas per year, but pricing issued have stalled further progress on a delivery contract for the natural gas. Medvedev is likely to propose a scaled back deal to supply 30 billion cubic meters per year. Given the competition from Central Asian natural gas, he may not be able to make much headway on getting Beijing to pay anything approaching market prices, but even getting the negotiations going again would be progress.
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The oil pipeline from Siberia to Skovorodino on the Chinese border that Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, opened on Sunday, is a further sign of how Russia, like everyone else, is looking east for its trade as China’s economy becomes the epicenter of Asia’s growth. The line is a short 67 kms spur of the 2,750 kms pipe from Taishet in eastern Siberia to Nakhodka on the Sea of Japan that Russia will use to supply up to 1.6 million barrels a day to the growing Asian market once it is completed in 2012. The picture above shows a pumping station at Skovorodino under construction in April.
Last year, Beijing provided Moscow with a $25 billion loan repayable in oil that will let China import 300,000 barrels a day of Russian oil for 20 years from 2011, one of a series of oil-for-loans deals that Beijing has struck. Ten billion dollars of those loans, made via China Development Bank, are to Transneft, the pipeline operator. (The other $15 billion went to the oil producer Rosneft). That flow of oil will start later this year, once China has built the 930 kms link from its own oil pipeline network in Daqing to the Skovorodino spur.