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Putin Hopes for Sakhalin-2 Deal With Shell

President Vladimir Putin, speaking Friday in Finland, said he was optimistic that his government would reach an agreement with Royal Dutch Shell over Sakhalin-2, but said Russia was unwilling to agree to a doubling of its costs.

Shell's original production sharing agreement, signed in the 1990s, allows the company and its partners to recoup all expenses at the liquefied natural gas project before sharing any profits with the state.

Royal Dutch Shell said last year that it would double the costs at the project it leads to nearly $22 billion.

"If they double their costs, we won't be getting anything for another 10 years," a visibly irritated Putin said at a news conference at a European Union summit in Lahti, Finland.

But he voiced optimism for a resolution of the matter.

"We are not creating any problems out of it; we just need to sit down at a negotiating table, and I am sure a solution will be found," Putin said.

Earlier Friday, Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Andrei Dementyev told Federation Council members during hearings on the project that he hoped the government would reach a decision to approve or reject the cost over runs by early December.

"We are holding talks with the investors about introducing amendments to the economic model of the project, but it's unlikely to lead to changes in the terms of the PSA," Dementyev said.

The Shell-led project has come under intense pressure from environmental regulators since August. Analysts say the probes are being used to pressure the company to reconsider the terms of the original agreement to develop the fields, which are located off the Pacific island of Sakhalin, and to secure access for state-controlled Gazprom to the project.

Dementyev said the terms of Sakhalin-2 were "the worst of the three existing PSAs." The other two are run by ExxonMobil and Total.

"Of course we disagree," said Shell spokesman Maxim Shoob.

"We feel the PSA is great for the Russian Federation. If you take an oil price of $34 a barrel -- much lower than now -- the Russian Federation would get about $50 billion from Sakhalin-2."

Also speaking at the Federation Council hearing, Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev said that while he had received assurances from the consortium running the project that the oversights were being rectified, he could not rule out that work at the development might be halted.

"The Russian Natural Resources Ministry is responsible for the observance of environmental legislation. If Russian laws are going to be trampled on and if the environment is going to be damaged, then we will take measures to stop the project," he said, Interfax reported.

Trutnev is due to meet with representatives of the consortium on Sakhalin next week, when they will present a plan to resolve the environmental violations.

"It will be proposed that Sakhalin Energy compensate for and resolve the damage," Trutnev said in televised remarks.

He said that the consortium's chief executive officer, Ian Craig, had sent him a letter "in which the company acknowledges, virtually in full ... that it has violated the ecological legislation of Russia."

In a statement, Sakhalin Energy said that it had notified Trutnev of the state of work to rectify "noncompliant environmental practices" identified in an August environmental audit and would respond "quickly and adequately" if further problems were identified in a check that began on Oct. 3.

Speaking in Lahti, Putin also sought to allay foreign investors' concerns by saying Russia wanted to create a stable environment for foreign partners.

The recent decision by Gazprom to bar foreign investors from developing the giant Shtokman gas field under the Barents Sea, he said, did not mean Russia was creating an unfriendly investment climate.

"As far as Shtokman is concerned, it has nothing to do with the change of rules in Russia," he said. "It does not mean that Russia says 'no' to the work of foreign partners."

(The Moscow Times 23.x.06)

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