Tag Archives: Gas

MOL & Surgut Prediction Still Holding Water

The news was a shock…. Could I have been wrong? In an earlier post, I analyzed Hungarian and Russian wrestling moves in the area of gas. I predicted the Hungarian government wasn’t moving fast to release Surgutneftegaz from its holding in MOL. The news had Hungarian development minister,Tamas Fellegi, stating that the Hungarian government would be buying the 21.2% stake in MOL that Surgut holds.

But alas, apparently there was mixed up, and it was corrected the next day that the minister only stated that Hungary was interested in buying the stock as it would be beneficial for Hungary and Central Eastern Europe.

The news that emerged, which is interesting, Surgut’s holding in MOL are part of a larger discussion with Russia over a broad range of energy issues, according to the ministry’s corrected statement. Now this is interesting. Because a) it confirms Hungary is taking a holistic approach to its relations to Russia – in the area of energy and b) that I was right (which is important only for me). As I stated before, “Hungary can sit back and see if anything comes up they can either barter off, or raise the money to buy it outright.”

Maybe I’ve lived in Hungary for too long (which I have), but it is also clear that Hungary can gain more than just the 21.2% ownership in MOL if it decides to purchase it (apparently this can be financed by the open market). On the table for discussion is South Stream and a gas agreement for 2015. If there are other energy issues besides these, the government may also be seeking to gain some leverage. But based on these two topics, it can be seen where the Hungarians might be seeking some additional leverage. Why not make the Russians pay for more of the Hungarian portion of South Stream or gain some lower priced gas? (although this is relative in a market with current low gas demand and a post 2017 environment with South Stream/Nabucco/Krk LNG).

Overall, I’m more unclear as to how the Hungarians will be able to extract any significant, or meaningful concessions from the Russians in energy (particularly over these two mentioned areas). If the Hungarian Government wants to get away from energy dependency with Russia, a more productive path would be to limit further energy deals – not extend these. But then this is central Europe, and interdependency is important for all.

development minister Tamás Fellegi

AGRI another Gas Acronym and White Elephant for CEE

Supply diversification for securing energy is based on long term persistence. The recent agreement by Hungary to establish a project company to assess the viability of the LNG based Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romanian Interconnector (AGRI), may be an initial attempt. However, current gas projects cast doubt on the viability of this project.

The project company is held with a 25% stake by each of the countries. The plan is to create LNG facilities on the shores of the Black Sea, emminating from Azerbaijan, then transport the gas via upgraded pipelines to storage facilities in Hungary, or onward to points west.

The viability of this project falls flat when you consider the other pipeline and LNG projects that are at more advanced stages, and provide equal or higher supply diversification.

First, the LNG facility under development on the island of Krk, Adria LNG, which at the moment does not have a direct investment from either the Hungarian government or MOL or its Croatian subsidary INA, is a cheaper and more effective option at supply diversification. The cost of the facility is substantial, so much so, that RWE recently pulled out. Leaving a gap that Hungary/MOL/INA can fill. The high cost of one facility to construct with 4 other partners would be substantially cheaper than building two facilities with limited supply diversification.

The fact that the gas that would feed AGRI is the same gas that will be feeding Nabucco or even the Edison backed IGI (if it happens), means AGRI offers very limited supply diversification. If we consider that Turkey and Bulgaria will probably be stable transport countries. Investing in a sea based transport route literally becomes a floating white elephant – with gas.

The limited supply of Azeri gas is already a problem for Nabucco and IGI. Will Hungary and Romania (already Nabucco partners) really compete against themselves for the same Azeri gas? Although it was just stated by Turkmenistan that they have huge reserves they want to export, realization of this supply, in an efficient and timely manner, remains to be determined.

Cost is another component. Can AGRI really compete against a pipeline route? Most likely not. Nabucco will cost €8 billion for 31 bcm, while the Krk facility is planned to cost $1.5 billion for 10 bcm per year. But then use this equation (LNG terminal x 2 + #tankers = expensive).   AGRI has not stated the amount the capacity. I would also assume the long term operating costs are also much lower on a pipeline operation. In addition, the facility is being designed to be expanded up to 15 bcm.

There is plenty of room just in the Adria LNG facility to off set any need in AGRI. In addition, if additional Azeri gas is what Romania and Hungary really want, this can be transported through Turkey and bottled up and shipped via LNG tanker to Krk.

The peanut for this white elephant is the Hungarian government choosing to go with MVM to be the project company. If it was a viable project MOL would become involved in it, not a generation company that already distorts market operations. But just like South Stream is a government supported project with progress now amounting to the number of intergovernmental agreements signed, but limited identification of which Russian gas fields will be used, this project will be long on talk and short on results.

It is important to try to understand why Hungary and Romania are joining this consortium if it isn’t a serious project. I still stand by my earlier assessment of why Hungary is choosing both Nabucco and South Stream. However, I’m more unsure as to the purpose of signing up to this project, maybe it is to turn up the pressure on Russia. They can both press their positions on Gazprom and see if it is serious about building South Stream.

While Gazprom dallies to sign up new partners every day, at the end of the day, it may represent a political shot across the bow towards Russia by Hungary and Romania. They may be hinting to Gazprom to get serious. Romania may be pressuring Gazprom to choose it over  Bulgaria for the Black Sea landing spot,  while the new Hungarian government might just like to throw off balance Russia/Gazprom. Either way, AGRI is not a serious project for supply diversification – rather a mouse used to scare the elephant.

Hungary’s Dual Monarchy Turns into Dual Pipelines


Note: I’m reposting this as it originally appeared in the Energy Security blog, Feb 3, 2010. It still remains relevant in light of the appearance of yet another pipeline project
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The roll-out of the gas pipelines continued last week as Hungary sought to add diversity to its gas supply. Diversity in this term refers to diversifying away from the Ukraine as a transit country, but not from Russian gas. The fifth Hungarian-Russian intergovernmental joint committee meeting resulted in Hungary progressing further in its balancing act of supporting both South Stream and Nabucco. The Hungarian state owned development bank (MFB) with Gazprom set up a joint company to begin pipeline preparations. Hungary may soon be bursting at the seams with gas – but why support both pipelines?

The geopolitical balance that Hungary must strike between competing pipelines results in it choosing a dual pipeline approach: a national compromise of sorts that balances the need to anchor it with neighbors for gas supply diversification and its pragmatic trading relationship with Russia. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 attempted to balance the need for Hungarian independence and statehood with Habsburgian dominance and, in the age of Bismarck – realpolitic.

Under the Compromise of 1867, Austria and Hungary each had separate parliaments that met in Vienna and Buda that passed and maintained separate laws. Each region had its own government, headed by its own prime minister….The suggestion for a dual monarchy was made by the Habsburgs but Hungarian statesman Ferenc Deák is considered the intellectual force behind the Compromise….He also felt that Hungary benefited through continued unity with a wealthier, more industrialized Austria (Wikipedia).

The fact that the Russian army effectively put down the 1848 Hungarian revolution combined with Hungarian ties to the Habsburg European monarchy were large influences on the Compromise of 1867. The dual monarchy, as is the dual pipeline, is a reflection of Hungary’s continual balancing act. Unable to break free from Russian influence yet striving to be ‘in’ economically successful Europe, Hungary steers a path that reflects east-west relations. The choice between South Stream and Nabucco gas pipelines reflects this same dual approach.

The support given to both projects by Hungary is genuine. The country can benefit from not just diversity of supplies (routes and sourcing) but also from transit and storage fees that both pipelines can bring to the country. In the age of financial meltdown, social tensions and falling revenue streams Hungary is ill placed to deny additional revenue. Hungary’s oil and gas group MOL, last week reaffirmed an agreement with Gazprom to begin the development of an underground gas storage site at the depleted Pusztafoldvar-Dus gas field– which can/will be utilized by South Stream. Thus even in the case of MOL which is a key partner in the Nabucco project, benefits from participating in the South Stream project can be had. In addition, the Hungarian feasibility study for South Stream will be carried out by MOL within a joint venture MOL-Gazprom company. There should be no illusions, even Hungary’s premier Nabucco partner is set to gain from the Hungarian section of South Stream. Whether MOL would also participate in the actual building of South Stream is unknown, but no other company in Hungary has the expertise.

Therefore, whether one or two pipelines are built in Hungary, MOL may also be positioning itself to be involved in these dual projects. Therefore, without undermining MOL’s position and economic interests, the Hungarian government (with MFB) has stepped in to support the ‘competing’ or ‘complimentary’ pipeline (depending on ones perspective). Politically, Hungary can maintain its international relations, balance neighborhood policy and diversify its gas supply by moving forward in a dual manner.

According to Sergei Kupriyanov, Gazprom spokesman in a March 2009 interview with a Hungarian radio station, “South Stream will be built to supply Russian gas to European consumer. The two projects are totally incomparable; Nabucco and South Stream are not rivals.” And this is where the solution for the Hungarian government may lie. Diversification for security of supply concerns, as both South Stream (non-Ukrainian transit) and Nabucco (non-Russian supply) provide justification for the acceptance and support of both pipelines.

This ‘dual pipeline’ approach allows Hungary, as it has in the past, to walk a fine line between supporting the Russian position and economic interests while also showing support to the ‘neighborhood’ pipeline which seeks supply diversification. The dual monarchy that Hungary participated in, was not the ideal solution, nor the full expression of national sentiment – what it did, through Deák’s statesmanship, was satisfy the competing demands of the nation from internal as well as external tension. The failure of the 1848 revolution firmly placed the future state of Hungary within the Russian sphere of influence – along with the reaction (or lack thereof) of England and France – thereby relegating Hungary to the margins of Europe, where to this day, it still relies on realpolitic for economic and social development.

The acceptance of both South Stream and Nabucco demonstrates the continual balance Hungary, and its companies, play in advancing economic development and their security of supply in energy. The participation of France in South Stream while the demands of the EU (including Austria) lie with Nabucco symbolizes the geopolitical fate of Hungary.

CEE Conference

Maybe it is too late for most. But I thought I would post this for anyone (probably already in Budapest) that is interested in attending a conference. It is called, CEE Energy 2010 and takes place September 30 and Oct 1. It has a nice line up of speakers from the region, so it should be rather informative.

The second day has a panel discussion on the southern gas corridor and whether there is enough room for all of this. This should be interesting. It also corresponds to a survey that will be launched on this blog next week. But I’ll keep that under-wraps for now.

You can see the conference brochure here.

Hungary/MOL Officially Pins Russia/Surgut

A pin, or fall, is a victory condition in various forms of wrestling that is met by holding an opponent’s shoulders or scapulae (shoulder blades) on the wrestling mat for a prescribed period of time. (Wikipedia)

In a move that the sporty Putin must appreciate, Hungary and MOL, have been judged to have pinned the likes of the (rumored) Kremlin backed Surgutneftegaz. The judges can be seen to be the international financial analysts, and myself.


“While we cannot rule out talks between Surgut and the Hungarian government continuing behind the scenes, we doubt the buyout will take place in the near term,” commented Olena Kyrylenko, analyst at KBC Securities, on Thursday. (Portfolio.hu)

Due to the tight shareholder conditions imposed by MOL and the Hungarian Energy Office and Parliament, the concerted strategy has resulted in Surgut stuck with its 21.2% stake in MOL. The Hungarian government lacks the money to retrieve the stock for Hungarian pride security of supply.  So now that they have proven that Surgut can’t really do anything with its shareholdings, Hungary can sit back and see if anything comes up they can either barter off, or raise the money to buy it outright. And for this I’m not making any prediction as to “how long the prescribed period of time” is that Hungary will be holding Surgut to the mat. Either way, they’ll probably be in this tight position for awhile. As Hungary lacks the financial resources until at least 2013! Enjoy the mat.


Second Wave FDI Strategy in Energy hits SCEE

The energy and consumer resources of the SCEE region are now in play for global players. Traditionally dominated by European utilities which pushed into the region when countries began to privatize their electricity and gas distribution companies, the likes of E.ON, RWE, EDF etc… now a second wave of investment may be occurring.  It may be too soon to be calling it a full wave, but there is no doubt that constrained home markets and past expansion plans by a range of energy companies have hit a wall with the global economic meltdown resulting in new strategies being deployed.

Just as the first wave of privatizations altered the energy landscape in the SEE and CEE regions, the second wave represents strategic actions that will cement companies into the region for decades. First let’s run through the slew of stories that serve as the foundation of this proposed second wave, it looks like a grab from Cold War foes.

Today there is the setting up of the joint venture between Gazprom and the Hungarian Development Bank (MFB) called ‘éli Áramlat Magyarország’. It is the company that is meant to operate the South Stream Pipeline through Hungary.  However a decision will be made in 2011.  Although you would think that MOL would actually be involved in operating a pipeline through Hungary, it is already committed to South Stream.

The Russians are still in the headlines in the noisy affair in Croatia of whether they are or are not interested in taking over INA. They continue to deny it, and MOL continues to come under political pressure for ‘corruption’ allegations over how MOL gained control of the company from the Croatian state. Nonetheless, less file this under ‘interested FDI’. As it could be seen with the previous story that if South Stream doesn’t pass through Hungary then it would pass through Croatia, thus having to deal with the technical competence of INA-MOL. Either way, MOL and Hungary stay in the South Stream story – thus the current sour grapes between MOL and Russian Surgutneftegas may go by the wayside before 2011, when actual construction decisions on South Stream (and Nabucco – with US support) are made.

But waiting to put both these pipe dream pipeline plans into disarray is Exxon Mobil, with the aid of MOL, which continue to explore the Mako gas field in Hungary. With Mako possibly holding huge potential reserves – if it can be extracted. Two earlier tests wells have failed which may have helped to prompt Exxon Mobil to buy Texas-based XTO which has expertise in shale and tight-sands deposits.  Very useful expertise for the Hungarian tight-sands, and other countries’ deposits in the CEE region. This should mean if  gas is extractable, XTO will be able to bring the technical expertise to make it happen.

Lest we forget that we are at the beginning of a green revolution, US based Fagen Inc will be setting up a bioethanol plant in Hungary. With Hungary a top 10 global exporter of corn and wheat. Hungary may be well positioned to use its natural resources to its advantage. And this is the true story of the second wave of foreign investment into the region.

This partial list of FDI, coming out within the same week, does indicate change in how foreign companies are participating in the local energy markets.  There is much more activity on the production and resource provision side then on the consumer-services side of the business chain. This represents a maturing of the business market in the region. The privatization of distribution companies was ripe for the injection of private capital which governments lacked at the time and for managerial expertise. The newest round is focused more on investments of energy resources that feed into the consumer side of the business. The result will be a new supply sources that will compliment existing sources. From a security of supply view, diversification of sources is a good thing. But part of any evaluation of security of supply are political and geopolitical elements.

The competing/complimantary projects  (depending who you talk to) of Nabucco and South Stream no doubt must be assessed from a geopolitical point of view. But I think that is for another posting. What is important is that the investments by these companies represent a long-term regional investment. The necessary skill sets will be fostered with local talent and infrastructure improved. This is a good start to what will become a larger wave of investments set to transform the infrastructure for energy production to low and zero carbon energy sources. Gas and ethanol are key in the near and mid-term transition process. Expertise and the development of infrastructure in these businesses will lead the transformation necessary to reduce the regional carbon footprint.

Update: to underscore this second wave of investments, and into renewables there is now this story:

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has decided to invest up to EUR 125 million to take a 25% stake in the Hungarian and Polish subsidiaries of Iberdrola Renovables. link

Emfesz’s CEO get’s Scooby-doo-ed.

If it wasn’t for those darn kids he would have gotten away with it. It is reported that CEO István Góczi of Emfesz was arrested by Hungarian authorities for embezzlement. According to this article it was Góczi who used the power of attorney to sell Emfesz to RosGas. But one can never know for certain in this murky game of Russian/Ukrainian/Hungarian gas.

It also wouldn’t be the first arrest in relation to Emfesz, if this report is to be believed,

In January 2008 [Semen] Mogilevich was arrested in Moscow on charges of aiding and abetting a tax evasion scheme, but many observers believed this was false and that his arrest was directly linked to a struggle between Firtash and Gazprom over the control of Emfesz. According to informed sources, prior to his arrest Mogilevich disclosed that Gazprom was determined to take over Emfesz and that he had played a role in this plot.

What is clear is that Dmitry Firtash lost (temporarily?) a profitable Hungarian company from his holding company Group DF to RosGas, which is suspected of being tied to Gazprom, although the latter denies this.

Now the question comes up as to whether you dear reader believe in coincidences. The arrest occurred on November 11th, the day before MOL and Surgutneftgas appear in a Budapest court to go over their differences. MOL is resisting registering Surgutneftgas as a shareholder, as it is not approved by the Hungarian Energy Office.

Now, if the Hungarians wanted to send a message to the owners of Emfesz and Surgutneftgas then this would be a pretty strong message. From the arrest then this may be a signal to back off. But that is only if you believe in coincidence. Either way, just like those darn kids in Scooby Doo, it looks like the Hungarian authorities found some Scooby snacks and decided to take action against a specter.

scooby-doo-tv-02