Mission Impossible: 'Gas Opec' Not Happening, Says Russian Deputy PM

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Opec-style regulation of the global gas market is now “simply impossible,” Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said in an interview with RBC Daily on Wednesday.

There are no negotiations on such regulation at this stage, he said.

The idea of gas market regulation has been floating around over the past several years, as the market becomes more global with the increasing role of the LNG trade. It has gained more attention during the current gas price crisis, which large producers say is particularly caused by poor planning and coordination on the unregulated “free market.”

Market Not Ready

Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman in October suggested the gas market needs to “copy and paste” what Opec and a wider Opec-plus alliance have done on the oil market in order to avoid price crises in the future. Novak then said the idea had “some rationale,” but added that it should be “carefully considered.”

In the RBC Daily interview however, Novak said that the gas market is not yet as well-developed as the oil market in terms of production, supply and spot trade. Although LNG trade keeps growing, pipeline gas supplies still account for a significant share of the global gas trade, he said.

There might be prerequisites for regulation when LNG reaches 50% of the global gas trade in several years, although that still is not a level at which gas can become an exchange commodity similar to oil, Novak said.

Some have suggested, including Novak, that the Doha-based Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), widely dubbed as “gas Opec,” could undertake an Opec-like role on the gas market. But Novak cited the GECF’s stance that the organization, which unites 18 producing countries including Qatar and Russia, is not tasked to regulate the market and solely focuses on information exchange and joint research.

Russia Blames Europe

The current gas price crisis in Europe was caused by the EU’s policy of moving away from long-term gas investments and long-term contracts, and increasing spot imports, Novak said in the interview. He reiterated Moscow’s stance that Europe is to blame for record-high prices, not Russia.

Russia’s pipeline gas supplier Gazprom is being widely criticized for restricting its own supply for commercial and political reasons, which contributed to the spot price rally.

Gazprom hasn’t been supplying gas via the Yamal-Europe pipeline across Poland for nine days since Dec. 21, but the company’s spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov recently said that accusations that Gazprom doesn’t provide enough gas to Europe are “groundless and unacceptable, and, simply put, lies.”

President Vladimir Putin’s comments were as tough at his big annual press conference last week. He said the European’s “lie all the time” and “are muddying the waters” by accusing Gazprom.

Putin explained the drained Yamal-Europe transit volumes by the buyers failing to place daily nominations for Russian gas and sending gas in reverse mode to Poland and possibly to Ukraine, which stopped direct imports from Russia in 2015.

Buyers have indeed reduced their daily offtake nominations, largely because Gazprom’s hub-linked contract prices are now too high, making the gas injected into storage in the summer a significantly cheaper option. Gazprom itself admitted last month that high prices had started to erode the demand, including for Russian piped gas.

Policy and Regulation, Gas Spot Markets, Gas Prices, LNG Trade, LNG Spot Trade
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