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Siberian Oil Deal Sees BP Bet on Russia’s Pivot Toward China

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BP Plc’s $750 million purchase of a Siberian oilfield stake is as much a bet on China as it is on Russia.

Taas-Yuriakh Neftegazodobycha LLC’s blocks near China’s northern border will supply the planned Tianjin refinery on the east coast, according to OAO Rosneft, which sold the 20 percent holding last week. BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley predicts the unit’s natural gas reserves will prove strategic as Russia develops its Far East and builds ties with the world’s biggest energy consumer.

“You have to make a judgment on whether it will have value,” Dudley told Bloomberg News on June 19 in St. Petersburg, referring to the gas reserves. “We believe it will, eventually.”

BP’s Siberian acquisition comes at a time when Russia is turning to Asia for energy sales in response to sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union following its annexation of Crimea. China, which toppled the U.S. as the world’s biggest oil importer last year, has agreed to increase its Russian oil and gas purchases as it diversifies it sources of energy.

“BP has been in Russia since the mid-1990s and is probably the most successful of the western majors there and in understanding how Russia works,” said Alex Brooks, an oil and gas analyst at Canaccord Genuity Ltd. in London. “Russia’s potential is substantial and China continues to play a major part in global energy demand.”

BP’s shares gained the most in 10 weeks, rising as much as 1.7 percent to 438.75 pence and trading at 437.05 pence as of 12:51 p.m. in London. The stock has climbed 5 percent this year, compared with a 2.2 percent increase in the FTSE 100 Index.

The company agreed to buy the Taas-Yuriakh stake from Rosneft on June 19, a day after Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s biggest oil company, signed an agreement with OAO Gazprom to expand a gas export terminal in Sakhalin-2.

Putin Ally

Russia’s gas exports are controlled by Gazprom, while Rosneft ships oil. Even as Gazprom has no plans to allow others into its turf, Igor Sechin, Rosneft’s CEO and a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has pushed for access to gas pipelines Gazprom is building to China across Russia’s remote east.

The Taas-Yuriakh unit plans to raise oil production fivefold to 100,000 barrels a day in 2017 from current levels, according to Rosneft. The field has enough gas reserves to surpass 5 billion cubic meters of production a year, more than double the volume Finland consumed last year.

Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp. in May agreed on daily gas delivery volumes, gas quality and a pipeline entry point to China. Russia’s monopoly gas exporter also plans to exceed an earlier target of 30 billion cubic meters per year.

Rosneft plans to ship 582,000 barrels a day to China this year, 27 percent more than in 2014. That’s 91 percent of its total planned exports to Asia in the year.

BP first entered Russia in 1990 with an office in Moscow. Thirteen years later it combined its assets there with TNK to set up Russia’s third-biggest integrated oil and gas company, according to its website. In 2013, BP swapped its half of TNK-BP for cash and a 20 percent stake in state-run Rosneft.

BP’s latest move for the Russian oilfields also comes as global demand for oil and gas slows after surging for a decade. The slowing demand and higher supply are forcing companies to rework their future strategies. Dudley is positioning BP for what he believes will be an extended period of lower oil, he said June 10 in London.

The company’s data shows the world’s oil consumption rose 0.9 percent last year, the lowest since the financial crisis of 2009. Gas use grew 0.4 percent.

In comparison, China used 8.6 percent more gas and 3.7 percent more oil.

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