The Russian government controlled energy giant Gazprom's boss Alexei Miller on Monday - the day after Vladimir Putin turned 60 - offered a rather strange birthday present to the celebrator - an underused, loss making gas pipeline:
The second phase of the mammoth Nord Stream pipeline went into operation Monday, increasing Gazprom's options for selling its natural gas to Europe.Unlike for the first line, no country leaders turned out for the ceremony, but President Vladimir Putin received perhaps the biggest ever tribute for his distinct role in the Gazprom-led project.
Gazprom chief Alexei Miller described the completion of the second — and as yet the final — phase as a present to Putin, who celebrated his 60th birthday Sunday.
"There is symbolism in the fact that we're bringing the capacity to its fullest during the days of Vladimir Putin's anniversary," Miller said, addressing an audience that included former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, now chairman of Nord Stream's board. "It's a gift of sorts to the author of the idea."
What Miller did not tell, is that the first pipeline has been running only on 30-40% of its maximum capacity. Adding a second pipeline will make the situation even worse:
Analysts think that Russian pipeline gas, bound to the oil price, is too expensive, that’s a problem for the consumers, and for Gazprom itself. They explain the low level loading of the first branch of Nord Stream by the unflexible pricing policy. It was 30-40% of maximum capacity within the first 11 months of operation, the press-secretary of the pipeline operator Nord Stream Company, J. Mueller confirms. It transported within the period 9 billion cubic m.
Gazprom is likely to be dissatisfied with commercial results of the first year of the pipeline's operation. The risk of idling even increases with the launch of the second branch if the supplier disagrees to offer its products by lower prices, the expert for energy of the analytical center of Deutsche Bank, J. Auer thinks. In future the USA will start liquid shale gas supplies to Europe, maybe in 2015 when the liquefying device will start operation. It will damage the competitiveness of Nord Stream.
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However, what Miller told the press at the inauguration of the second Nord Stream pipeline was even more strange than the "birthday present":
Miller said that Nord Stream shareholders concluded earlier that day that it was feasible and commercially viable to add a third and a fourth line to the project. They agreed that a separate company would execute any further expansion, Nord Stream said in a statement. The shareholders will decide on their participation by the end of March, which will also be the deadline for incorporating that company.
Gazprom owns 51% of the Nord Steam shares, Germany's BASF and E.On Ruhrgas own 15.5 percent each, while Holland's Gasunie and France's GDF Suez split the rest. If the European power companies who own 49% of the shares really think that it is "feasible and commercially viable to add a third and a fourth line" (at the prices Gazprom charges), their shareholders have a real reason to worry about the professionalism of the top executives of these companies.