Rosneft is looking for a way out of Algeria

The company wants to get out from its only project in the country.
As Kommersant found out, Rosneft was considering the withdrawal from the exploration project in Algeria. According to the newspaper's sources, it will lead to multi-million dollar write-offs and penalty payments, so Rosneft will probably try to sell its share to the Algerian partner Sonatrach. Gazprom refused to purchase the asset. According to experts, overseas exploration projects of oil and gas companies in Russia can rarely be called successful, because, as a rule, they are implemented for political reasons.

Rosneft is going to get rid of its stake in the project to develop the block 245 South in Algeria, which includes three fields: Takuazet East, Takuazet West and North Tesselit, as sectoral sources told Kommersant. 60% stake in the project is owned by the Russian JV Rosneft-Stroytransgaz, where Rosneft has 50%, and 40% belongs to the Algerian state company Sonatrach. According to Kommersant's sources, Rosneft wants to avoid further spending on the project, as its prospect is doubtful, and have been looking for options for sale for several years.

Rosneft and Stroytransgaz consortium won the tender for the exploration of the Algerian block, which became the first foreign project of state-owned companies outside the former Soviet Union, in 2001. The project is implemented under the terms of the production sharing agreement, reserves are estimated at 70 million tons. Rosneft for many years has been negotiating with Stroytransgaz to buy back the share in the joint venture, but the oil company was dissatisfied with the price: $200 million (see "Kommersant" dated October 12, 2010.), which resulted in collapse of the deal.

The latest messages of Rosneft on the Algerian project dated back to 2012. Back then, the company was headed by Igor Sechin, who decided to focus on other areas, explains one of the Kommersant's sources. At this point, Rosneft drilled about ten wells in Algeria, but drilling results require further exploration. When oil prices began to decline in 2014, Rosneft got completely disappointed in the development of the Algerian fields, another source of Kommersant notes. According to him, Rosneft could not decide what to do with a share in the project for three years, and even offered it to Gazprom (the latter teamed up with Sonatrach to explore the area of El Assel). At the same time, Stroytransgaz owned by Gennady Timchenko still managed to sell its stake, according to Kommersant's source close to shareholders of Stroytransgaz. Presumably, this share got one of the Russian banks, and thus, the Russian party retained control over the Algerian project. In September 2016, the Kommersant source familiar with the situation insisted that active work on the deposits was not conducted. However, Interfax citing the materials from the meeting of heads of governments of Russia and Algeria in April, reported that Rosneft-Stroytransgaz prepared tenders in Algeria for $600 million. Rosneft and Stroytransgaz declined to comment.

Officially, Rosneft does not disclose data on existing investments in Algeria. According to Kommersant sources, withdrawal from Algeria will result for Rosneft in writing off hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, as well as the payment of a penalty to the Algerian party. But it is possible that the state company will try to minimize losses to negotiate the sale of its share to Sonatrach. In addition, Rosneft will need to agree its withdrawal from the country with the Russian authorities.

Most foreign exploration projects were unprofitable for the Russian oil companies, said Vitaly Kryukov of Small Letters. According to him, in many cases, projects started for political reasons for the deepening of relations between the countries, so the fail was natural. Meanwhile, in order to share the risks, Rosneft increasingly focuses on partnerships with majors in offshore projects, in particular in Africa. For example, late last year it bought 30% in the Shorouk gas block offshore Egypt from Italian ENI. Also at the end of 2015, Rosneft together with Exxon got offshore areas in Mozambique.