* Gazprom, Statoil, Total work behind scenes to reach new
* Barents Sea field has more gas than Norwegian shelf
* Shareholder agreement expires July 1
* Shell possible third partner for Gazprom
By Melissa Akin and Dmitry Zhdannikov
ST PETERSBURG/LONDON, June 22 Negotiations to
save a Gazprom-led consortium charged with developing
one of the world's biggest natural gas fields continued on
Friday, sources close to the consortium said as a
Kremlin-imposed deadline drew near.
Gazprom's partners in the Shtokman Development Consortium,
Statoil and Total, were in St Petersburg
attempting to hammer out a new agreement, which could be
announced at the Russian government's annual economic showcase
that ends on Saturday afternoon.
"The process is ongoing. Nothing more to say," a spokesman
for Gazprom, Russia's gas export monopoly, said on Friday.
Christophe de Margerie, chief executive of France's Total,
and Helge Lund, head of Norway's Statoil, met with Gazprom CEO
Alexei Miller at Gazprom's stand at the St Petersburg Economic
Forum to discuss Shtokman's terms, Gazprom said.
The Kremlin is loath to permit the failure of the flagship
project to exploit the giant Shtokman field, which holds 3.9
trillion cubic metres of gas, more than the entire Norwegian
One investor consortium has already failed. The project aims
to extract gas from the seabed of the stormy Barents Sea.
Industry sources have said the Kremlin was hoping to
announce progress at the forum, a traditional venue for flagship
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month went so far as
to instruct the partners to strive for a final investment
decision on the project, which had eluded them for more than a
But talks centred instead on a new framework agreement for
the project, whose current shareholder pact expires on July 1.
Much of the design work has been thrown out and staff at the
consortium's offices slashed, sources have said.
The consortium is leaning strongly toward an LNG-only
version of the Shtokman development plan. This would abandon
plans to pipe half the gas output to Russia's mainland for sale
through the Nord Stream pipeline and instead focus on seaborne
deliveries of the super-cooled liquefied gas.
Gazprom has said this year it is looking to bring in new
partners, but Total and Statoil have not said they plan to quit
Media reports have identified Royal Dutch Shell,
already a partner of Gazprom in the Sakhalin-2 LNG project, as a
likely third partner for Shtokman to help spread risk.
The International Oil Daily, a newsletter, reported on
Friday that Shell would replace Total in the consortium. The
report, quoting sources close to Gazprom, said the changes were
understood to have been approved by Putin.
Putin hosted a meeting of top foreign and Russian energy
executives late Thursday night and told Shell CEO Peter Voser he
would welcome greater cooperation with Shell in Russia.
Such expressions of support have been made in the past, but
not necessarily as a precursor to deals.
Analysts say Shell could also be a logical choice because of
its large LNG portfolio and its marketing power.
The current shareholder agreement gives exclusive marketing
rights to Gazprom, but analysts have speculated privately on a
marketing role for Shell.
Shtokman, one of the world's biggest gas fields, was
discovered in Soviet times, but development of the remote Arctic
deposit has been repeatedly delayed by changes in development
plans and cost estimates.
The latest blow to the field development has come from the
shale gas revolution in the United States, which made exports of
liquefied natural gas to the continent unattractive. Gas
consumption in Europe also fell due to the economic downturn.
Gazprom has a 51 percent stake in the group, while Total has
25 percent and Statoil has 24 percent.
Shell and Statoil declined to comment.
"There are far too many rumours," a Total spokesman said.