How did Total, which has relatively less experience with arctic drilling, get selected as Gazprom’s first partner on the Shtokman Field? The current speculation is that new French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a secret deal with Vladimir Putin to allow Gazprom to purchase interests in Gaz de France (GdF) and Suez in exchange for giving the first Shtokman slot to Total.
Sarkozy passes Putin an important phone call during the June G8 meetings (AP)
The other speculation is that Total offered to ease its position on the production sharing agreement at Kharyaga – a Siberian oil field which had been under pressure from regulators for some time before disappearing unexpectedly after some light fines. However it seems highly unlikely that France should have such good fortune in dealing with the Russian state as compared to so many other foreign energy firms – there was undoubtedly influence applied from the presidency. Though Gazprom denies its interest in acquiring GdF or Suez shares, and the French companies are declining to comment, many analysts seem quite convinced of Sarko’s role. All this talk got kicked off by a report in Prime-Tass, which could be nothing more than the famous Gazprom tactic of announcing deals before they are made (like reporting that Chevron was interested in buying Yukos assets at the auctions – which later turned out to not be true). Three things seem reasonably certain at this point – 1) Total won the Shtokman bid with the help of Sarkozy, 2) Gazprom will receive something important in return, 3) and that Russia has a strong interest in gaining direct access to European energy consumers to maximize political leverage. So far the rumors look like they may add up.