Gazprom plans Africa gas grab
By Matthew Green in Abuja and Catherine Belton in Moscow
January 4 2008
Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy group, is seeking to win access to vast energy reserves in Nigeria in a move that will heighten concerns among western governments over its increasingly powerful grip on gas supplies to Europe.
A senior Nigerian oil industry official, who declined to be named, said the company was offering to invest in energy infrastructure in return for the chance to develop some of the biggest gas deposits in the world.
The Russian move is part of a courtship that saw Vladimir Putin writing to Nigeria’s leader, Umaru Yar’Adua, last year to seek energy co-operation.
Gazprom’s efforts are likely to cause concern among European governments anxious about their dependence on Russia for a quarter of gas imports. The country’s readiness to cut off supplies has alarmed EU governments.
“What Gazprom is proposing is mind-boggling,” the Nigerian oil official told the Financial Times. “They’re talking tough and saying the west has taken advantage of us in the last 50 years and they’re offering us a better deal ... They are ready to beat the Chinese, the Indians and the Americans.”
Gazprom representative Ilya Kochevrin confirmed the talks with Nigerian officials. “We made a decision to go global in terms of acquiring assets and developing strategy outside Russia. Africa is one of our priorities,” he said.
Any move by Gazprom to establish itself in Nigeria, long dominated by companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil, would reinforce a global trend of state-backed energy companies challenging western rivals.
Although Nigeria is an important provider of liquefied natural gas to the US and Europe, western energy companies have historically focused on producing and selling oil from Nigeria, which is Africa’s biggest producer of crude. However, demand has prompted plans for more facilities to cool natural gas into the liquid state, which makes it possible to ship to Europe and elsewhere.
The Nigerian official said Gazprom executives had visited Abuja in mid-December with a range of proposals to revamp the underperforming gas sector.
A Gazprom document, seen by the FT, says it can offer “strong technical expertise and financial resources”.
The Nigerian official said Gazprom was also competing with international banks to take over funding the government’s share of ventures with western oil companies, hoping to win gas exploration blocks and approvals to build LNG plants in return.