* Novatek pushes for rights to export LNG
* Putin reluctant to scrap Gazprom's monopoly
MOSCOW Feb 15 Russia will try to find a way to
increase export rights for producers of liquefied natural gas
(LNG) without creating competition for monopoly Gazprom
, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich was quoted as
saying on Friday.
Putin has been reluctant to loosen Gazprom's legally
protected monopoly on natural gas exports despite a plea from
his longtime political ally, Rosneft Chief Executive Igor
Sechin, to let offshore gas producers export LNG.
"I think that a consolidated position might be presented ...
by the end of March, taking into account the key issue that the
president has put forth: guaranteeing non-competition on the
same markets between LNG and the traditional gas that Gazprom
sells," Interfax news agency quoted Dvorkovich as saying.
Earlier this week Putin told an assembly of Cabinet
ministers and energy industry chiefs that it was necessary to
"consider the gradual liberalisation of LNG exports" and pressed
Sechin on potential competition between LNG and Gazprom pipeline
exports to Europe.
Putin has expressed concern at Gazprom's weakening hand in
its main gas market and called for a rethink of Russia's gas
export strategy to focus on LNG and Asia.
But several advanced LNG projects are outside Gazprom
control, presenting a dilemma for Putin.
Access to export markets would be a boon to "independent"
non-Gazprom producers, currently confined to the domestic
market, but pose a threat to Gazprom in the longer term if it
has to compete with lower-cost Russian producers.
Public debate over an exemption to the Gazprom export
monopoly for producers of LNG was prompted by a request by
Gazprom rival Novatek, which may not be able to put up
gas exports as collateral on loans for its own Arctic LNG
project if it has to sell the gas through Gazprom.
For now, Russia has only one operating natural gas
liquefaction plant, operated by Gazprom, Royal Dutch
Shell and Mitsui at Sakhalin-2, operated under
Dvorkovich, responsible for the energy industry in the
government, has not spoken out on LNG export rights, though he
has said in the past the export monopoly is not up for
The Energy Ministry has in the past given cautious backing
to the idea but Energy Minister Alexander Novak has suggested
the decision is out of his hands and the deputy minister dealing
with Novatek's request has resigned.