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China oilfield firms muscling in on sanctions-hit Russia

Pubdate:2014-07-29 09:39 Click:

Chinese oilfield equipment makers are increasing their focus on the Russian market, with some already reporting a rise in enquiries and business as they manoeuvre to take advantage of American and European threats to restrict the flow of oil and gas technology and knowledge to Moscow.

The United States and EU have been levelling sanctions against Russian individuals and companies for several months in response to the conflict in Ukraine. This month, the White House introduced harsher measures that will affect Russia’s largest energy companies – Rosneft and Novatek – while Brussels will consider its strongest punishment yet on Tuesday.

Western sanctions have already proved a boon for China’s oilfield equipment manufacturers, which have become more competitive in recent years by offering products and services at lower prices than their more established rivals.

“The US sanctions on Russia have helped to improve our communication with Russian companies,” Yao Renqi, deputy marketing manager for Yantai Jereh Oilfield Services Group, told Interfax. Based in Shandong in east China, Jereh has around half the market share for shale gas equipment in China.

“Many Russian oil and gas companies are actively talking with us about equipment procurement, such as drilling rigs, which is something we haven’t experienced before,” said Yao. Among the companies speaking to Jereh are Gazprom, Rosneft and Surgutneftegaz – according to Yao.

Jereh’s expansion into Russia is well underway. “We are establishing a large after-sales service network in Russia and a spare parts store as well by cooperating with a Russia-based company,” Zhong Weiping, general manager of Russia and CIS marketing, said at an exhibition in Moscow last month.

Russia is the fourth-largest destination by value for Chinese exports of oil and gas drilling parts – behind the US, Singapore and Kazakhstan – according to Chinese customs data. China exported $49.66 million-worth of parts to Russia in the first five months of 2014.

Upping the ante

The US and EU have stopped short of imposing ‘sectoral sanctions’ that might include export controls on goods and equipment for Russian oil and gas projects. But politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have said the option is available if Moscow does nothing to ease tensions in Ukraine.

Brussels appeared to be edging towards its first economic sanctions against Russia last week, after the European Commission tabled draft legislation for a package of expanded measures on Friday.

“The final decision now lies with the EU’s member states, but I believe that this is an effective, well-targeted and balanced package providing the flexibility to adjust our reaction to changes on the ground,” commission President José Manuel Barroso said in a statement on Friday.

EU ambassadors will meet on Tuesday to agree a final package. A deal would follow Canada’s escalation of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies last week – with Novatek and Gazprombank among the firms now on the list.

It is the first time Ottawa has targeted Russian energy companies and financial institutions with punitive measures (see Canada hits Novatek and Gazprombank with sanctions, 25 July 2014).

Some of China’s biggest oil and gas equipment makers are monitoring the situation. “We are keeping a close eye on the issue,” Honghua Group spokesperson Deng Xuejun told Interfax.

A delegation from Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry visited Honghua’s manufacturing base in Guanghan in Sichuan on Friday in search of “more potential collaboration opportunities”, said Deng.

Honghua is one of China’s leading onshore drilling rig manufacturers. It has captured 60-70% of new Russian demand for onshore rigs since 2010, and holds more than a fifth of the market for such equipment in Russia.

Sanctioning a sales boost

Kingdream Public, a leading drill bit manufacturer owned by Sinopec, is hoping to see a sales bump in Russia this year after management stressed the importance of the market, a spokesperson at the company’s country office in Moscow told Interfax.

“If the US does forbid its companies to export equipment to Russian companies, it will for sure help boost our sales,” said the spokesperson.

Kingdream has posted more staff to Russia and broadened its product range to win more business. “Before, we were only selling our main product – oil and gas drill bits. But now we are selling a lot more of other products, such as gas compressors. There are more potential customers for us to get in touch with as there are more aspects to work with.”

Some petroleum equipment manufacturers in China have voiced doubts their peers would profit immediately from further Western punishment of Russia.

“I don’t think the US sanctions can give a direct boost to Chinese sales in the Russian market right away,” said Wan Wenjiang, general manager of the oil reservoir engineering department at independent oilfield services provider SPT Energy Group.

“We need to go through one or two years of research before introducing proper technology for them,” said Wan. He said SPT Energy has been talking to Russian companies since March and April, but has not agreed any tie-ups because they have not found an oilfield to work on together.

That view was echoed by Liu Chuanpeng, vice president of Shandong Kerui Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Technology, who said the number of Russian firms approaching the company has dropped off and was small to begin with.

Liu noted a recent improvement in the “attitudes” of Russian companies, stating they seem more willing to engage Chinese equipment manufacturers than in the past.