Austria’s OMV is intent on securing a minority stake in the controversial Nord Stream 2 Russian gas export pipeline project to Europe despite an earlier ruling from Poland's antitrust regulator.
Speaking on a conference call on Thursday, chief executive Rainer Seele said it is too early to start talks with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom on seeking a refund of the company’s loan of €730 million ($840 million) to project operator Nord Stream 2.
Apart from OMV, four other European companies — Anglo-Dutch supermajor Shell, Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall Dea and France’s Engie — arranged similar loans to Nord Stream 2 anticipating they would eventually be converted into minority shareholdings in the pipeline project.
Poland’s state agency for competition and consumer protection, UOKiK, has prohibited them from forming a consortium to build and operate the pipeline.
UOKiK had been dragged into the approvals process under European competition regulations, as Nord Stream 2 would have changed a default delivery route for Russian pipeline gas to Poland, which remains heavily dependent on Gazprom’s gas supplies.
OMV said in a statement to Russian news agency Ria Novosti that it will appeal the UOKiK's ruling because it is devoid of legal grounds.
“Currently, we only have to wait and see when and whether [the Nord Stream 2] project operator re-starts laying pipes,” Seele said, referring to the last uncompleted segment of the project in Denmark’s territorial waters.
OMV has contractual obligations to Gazprom to finance the project and the company has completed them from its side, he argued.
Seele has not commented on a recent UOKiK’s decision, announced earlier in October, that imposed hefty fines on Gazprom and Nord Stream 2’s European lenders, and also gave them a clear instruction to cancel their lending agreements with Nord Stream 2 by 6 November.
Technically, Nord Stream 2 may restart laying pipes near Denmark at the beginning of November, according to reports in Moscow, as Germany excluded the project from new European sanctions against Russia, which came after the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The only predicament for the Russian project are wide-ranging US sanctions against the project that were expanded last week to include contractors, providing upgrades in pipelaying equipment and sea positioning systems to two Russian-owned pipelaying vessels, Akademik Chersky and Fortuna.
However, further indications that Gazprom may not re-start construction of Nord Stream 2 this year have emerged in Kiev.
The chairman of Ukraine's state gas importer and distributor Naftohaz Ukrainy, Andrey Kobolev, said Gazprom had inquired about options to book additional gas transit capacity for 2021.
Although Gazprom has committed to deliver 65 Bcm of gas to Europe across Ukraine this year, in 2021 the minimal annual contracted volume is set to fall to 40 Bcm in apparent anticipation that Russia will start gas deliveries to Europe via Nord Stream 2.