Gazprom looks west with North Sea gas deal

Russian energy giant Gazprom is making a major move into the western gas market after signing an asset-swap deal with Germany’s BASF.

Gazprom, the world’s largest natural gas company, will gain 50 per cent stakes in gas fields in the UK and Dutch North Sea operated by BASF’s oil and gas unit, Wintershall, the companies said in a joint statement yesterday.

In return, Wintershall gets stakes in two exploration blocks of the Achimov layers in Siberia, where the German company is already producing gas with its Russian partner.

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Gazprom, which is 50 per cent state owned, is expanding into western Europe to participate more in the continent’s lucrative energy market.

Next month it will start shipping gas directly to the region through a Baltic Sea pipeline, also operated with Wintershall, though efforts to gain direct access to customers have been foiled by governments wary of its scale and power in a vital industry.

The Russian company holds 18 per cent of the world’s gas reserves and is responsible for 15 per cent of global natural gas production. It briefly cut gas supplies to Ukraine in 2009 because of contract and debt disputes.

The European Union is trying to be less dependent on Gazprom, which supplies about a quarter of the EU’s gas. Europe is implementing energy rules that will force the company to divest its pipeline ownership, a move Russia opposes.

The European Commission is also investigating whether Gazprom’s subsidiaries are in breach of anti-monopoly regulations.

Gazprom already held a smaller stake in one of Wintershall’s North Sea platforms, and recently reached an agreement with another German company, RWE, paving the way for power plants in Germany, Britain and the Benelux countries, as well as natural gas supplies.

Gazprom chairman Alexey Miller said the partnership with Wintershall would enable the Russian company to tackle “technically complex and ambitious projects”.

He said the joint operations in Siberia and the North Sea would be to the companies’ mutual benefit.