* Norway’s Statoil already sold 10 pct stake to BP, SOCAR
* Turkey’s Botas in talks to take on Total’s stake
* Lower Russian gas price makes new gas investments difficult
* Total to focus its Azeri business on the Absheron gas field
By Henning Gloystein and Oleg Vukmanovic
LONDON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - France’s Total plans to sell its 10 percent stake in Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II gas field, sources with knowledge of the matter said, the second major to cut exposure to a project aimed to provide an alternative to Russian gas in Europe.
“Total’s strategy is to divest from projects where it has a minority stake and favour those where it is the operator,” one of the sources said on Friday.
A spokesman for Total declined to comment.
A representative of Turkish state pipeline firm Botas confirmed it was in talks to buy Total’s sake in the project. Botas is developing the pipeline section to pump Azeri gas into Turkey and onward towards the European Union.
“The acquisition of a 10 percent stake from Total is commercially profitable,” the representative said.
Analysts said Total’s move was probably a result of lower Russian gas prices, which made investment in expensive new gas sources less attractive.
Russia’s Gazprom has granted price reductions and repayments to customers across Europe, including Germany’s RWE and E.ON, Italy’s ENI and Edison as well as and France’s GDF Suez, in order to make its gas more attractive against rising competition.
At the same time, European gas demand has been weak due to the region’s slow economic growth and to competition from cheaper coal in the power generation sector.
“Facing weak demand and high (Russian) supply, prices have gone down 15 percent in the last two months. This will make alternative supplies more difficult to arrange when hub prices are below 60 pence per therm,” said Thierry Bros, senior gas analyst at French bank Societe General.
Total would be following Norway’s Statoil, which cut its stake in the project from 25.5 percent to 15.5 percent last December in a sale to Azeri state energy firm SOCAR and BP , the project’s technical operator, for $1.45 billion.
From around 2019, the estimated $28 billion Shah Deniz II project plans to supply 16 bcm of gas per year, with 10 bcm earmarked for Europe and 6 bcm for Turkey.
The sources said Total’s withdrawal from the Shah Deniz project would come as no surprise because the French major aims to focus its Azeri efforts on the Absheron gas field, in which it owns a 40 percent stake. Exploratory drilling found 150-300 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas resources, and the find was declared commercial in 2012.
Total has taken a more active approach to managing its business in recent years, buying and selling assets more frequently and focusing on projects for which it can be the operator.
The group had sold $13 billion worth of assets by the end of 2013 under a programme to sell $15-$20 billion total between 2012 and 2014, a target it hopes to beat this year.