A mysterious company called Novye Proekty has been awarded an oil and gas exploration license for the Crimean Black Sea shelf, and the Kremlin’s spokesman is directing questions about it to the cabinet.
The news about Novye Proekty was published by Kommersant earlier this week, sparking speculation, since according to some sources cited by the daily, the company was linked to fugitive Ukrainian energy and media businessman Serhiy Kurchenko, who is wanted by the Ukrainian authorities for the so-called “Kurchenko scheme”, which included fake oil deliveries and a number of other dubious enterprises. Kurchenko, according to Kommersant, currently lives in Moscow.
What’s more interesting, however, is that Novye Proekty is a private company, and private companies are not allowed to explore for oil and gas in the Crimean shelf, TASS notes. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev opened the door for license-issuing for Crimea last year, but only state-owned companies were to be allowed through it. Yet, here this company is, awarded a 30-year license with the obligation to drill a well within the next eight years.
The license is for the Glubokaya block, which holds reserves estimated in 2011 at 8.3 million tons of crude and 1.4 billion cu m of natural gas. Indeed, the Crimean shelf is believed to be quite rich in hydrocarbons, which is one logical reason for the annexation of the peninsula in the first place.
An EU Observer article from 2014 discussed this in some depth, suggesting that Gazprom will be put in charge of the newly acquired oil and gas reserves. This does not seem to be the case in light of the Novye Proekty report. Coupled with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s reluctance to discuss the license, the plot thickens.
In fact, Novye Proekty already had a license for the development of Glubokaya, it turns out. The license was issued in 2012 by the Ukrainian authorities. Could it be that the company proved a suitable figurehead for the launch of Russian exploration for oil and gas in the Crimean shelf?
It’s possible. EU and U.S. sanctions against Russia have targeted entities and individuals from the energy industry, restricting their freedom of movement, access to funding, and generally making their life difficult. Yet, nobody seems to have heard about Novye Proekty. The company has no assets to its name and no activity. Its owner, with 99 percent, is Glavneftservis, a company run by entrepreneur Anton Dornostup, who is close not just to Kurchenko but also to the former head of Russia’s federal subsoil resources management agency Rosnedra.
By the look of it, Novye Proekty is a classic shell company and maybe the time to get it into action has come. It would make sense for Moscow to be wary of putting Rosneft or Gazprom on the line in Crimea, especially when it became clear that the thawing in U.S.-Russian relations will not happen overnight and it won’t involve an acceptance by the Trump administration of the Crimea annexation. A shell company would be the more appropriate vehicle for tapping the Black Sea oil and gas resources of the peninsula.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com