Russian giant Gazprom eyes US market

WASHINGTON: Russia's Gazprom dominates gas markets in Europe and swathes of Asia, but it now wants to grab 10 percent of the US market within a decade, its top US manager said.

The world's largest natural gas company wants to replicate some of its success in Western Europe, where it meets 25 percent of gas demand, John Hattenberger, the President of Gazprom Marketing & Trading USA, told AFP Thursday.

"Our target here has been to start off strong... then build up to three BCF (billion cubic feet) a day in five years," he said, pointing to production targets that could double by 2019 to 10 percent of the market.

The firm, which is frequently accused of being a proxy for Moscow's geopolitical ambitions, is currently hammering out a raft of deals that would increase its so-far modest US trading, Hattenberger said.

He rejected allegations of political motivation, pointing to business opportunities in the United States, the world's largest energy market.

"I think people who don't know too much about Gazprom may have some preconceived notions about Russians," he said adding the firm was looking to secure market share through contract swaps with firms trading in the United States.

"We are looking for companies who have big US gas positions and who are looking to get bigger in Europe, so we will sell up gas in Europe and they will sell us gas in the United States."

Since Gazprom began US operations at the beginning of this month, a deal has already been announced with French utilities giant EDF for swaps equal to 60 million cubic feet per day.

The new deals "tend to be in the order of that size, or slightly bigger," Hattenberger said.

There is little doubt Gazprom has the resources to reach its US trading targets, particularly if Russia's massive arctic Shtokman field comes online in 2014 as planed.

But according to Fadel Gheit, a senior oil and gas analyst at Oppenheimer & Co, Gazprom and other foreign majors may be entering the US market for reasons beyond market share.

Gazprom's real goal, he said, could be acquiring cutting edge technology that can exploit the difficult-to-access but potentially massive reserves of gas from shale rock.

"The United States has far more advanced shale gas drilling technology. It is basically in the hands of the smaller producers, not the Exxons, not the BPs and not Shell.

"These companies are paying very hefty entry fees to gain a window into the technology. Gazprom I don't believe is interested in production itself, they are interested in production technology. It's pay to learn."

And Gazprom may face commercial challenges to US trade, even with its resource clout.

With China's economy growing apace and European energy prices still high, those markets remain more attractive.

Although Gazprom has a 20-year plan to bring liquefied natural gas to the United States from Russia's enormous Sakhalin-2 field, the firm has preferred to cash in on higher Asian demand and higher European prices.

Still, energy analysts expect regional price differences to ease as the market becomes more global and as regional powerhouses like Gazprom and Chinese firms move into new markets.

One boon for Gazprom's US business may come from an unlikely source -- the federal government. Congress is considering new regulation governing carbon emissions.

"It is all good," Hattenberger said of the proposals, arguing emissions curbs could propel gas use as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil.

"We are still very bullish on US demand," he said.