Monday, December 10, 2007

Private Oil Companies and Governments: Today a Very Complex Net of Different Actors. The Mossadegh Case (Iran) and the Kashagan Case (Kazakhstan)

December 10, 2007

ABSTRACT  In today’s world it is common ground that multinational corporations (M.N.C.s) are gaining more and more power in their negotiations with foreign governments. Some scholars argue that M.N.C.s are on the same level as national states. In some sectors this may be true, but in the oil and gas sector this assumption should not be taken for granted. This paper will try to explain that since the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, many things have radically changed with reference to the way M.N.C.s operate in the oil and gas sector. Probably, these oil and gas M.N.C.s have gained access to new and larger areas of the world, but in their relations with national states they are not as powerful as they were before. In particular, the analysis will be developed through two empirical case studies: the Mossadegh Case and the Kashagan Case.

Introduction The relations between private oil companies and foreign governments have always been very difficult since the beginning of the oil industry. With reference to oil and gas it is of clear evidence that, sadly, the most important reserves are located in the so-called “difficult countries”: Persian Gulf states, Russia, ex-Soviet-Union republics, Angola, Nigeria and Venezuela, just to mention the principal owners of oil and gas. This distribution of these resources is one of the reasons for which a lot of states are today reconsidering the nuclear option (in fact, uranium is located principally in "friendly places" such as Australia and Canada). The above-mentioned “difficult countries” normally have always lacked the know-how in order to start and run oil and gas fields. In other words, also today still in those countries that have been producing oil for decades the expertise of Western petroleum companies is necessary and fundamental. Obviously, for a private oil and/or gas company the measure of its success is the profitability for its investors in the long run (not in the short run). In fact, every oil or gas field requires huge investments and years of production before it can turn to be profitable and for these reasons political stability is fundamental.

In today’s world at the international and domestic level we assist to an increase in the power of new actors in addition to the national states. In reality, these actors  have always existed in the previous decades, but today they are much more powerful than they were in the past. They include principally non-state actors like multinational corporations (also called transnational corporations) and N.G.O.s. In particular, the principal oil and gas companies are multinational corporations and are among the oldest ones. In fact, companies like British Petroleum (BP), Royal-Dutch Schell, ENI and Total S.A. have always managed production establishments or deliver services in at least two countries (this is in general the requirement necessary to be considered a multinational corporation). All this said, to a more detailed analysis it is possible to affirm that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 oil and gas companies have gained a lot of scope of action, which before was impossible. But in addition to this, at the same time — differently from other types of multinational corporations —  oil and gas companies started immediately to face a more complex environment where their power was not anymore as strong as it had been in the past decades.  In fact, before 1991 supported by their own governments they had more power in order to carrying out their policy although they had a limited scope of action given the division of the world into two opposite blocs (the West around the U.S. and the east around the Soviet Union). Today, they have gained a bigger chessboard in which they can freely invest and operate, but they have to confront with an increased number of shareholders — before non existing or with no possibility to voice their ideas —  which can sharply limit their power. The aim of this paper is to examine two different cases that well explain these differences. This analysis will show how oil and gas M.N.C.s worked before 1991 and have been working since then. The first example is related to the nationalization of the Iranian petroleum industry in 1951 and to the powerful response that the oil company investing in the area could put into action supported by the governments of the U.S. and the U.K. The second example is, instead, an ongoing event and is related to Kazakhstan's Kashagan oil field where in the last months the Italian oil company ENI has been facing a very difficult confrontation with the Kazak government. In particular, this second case will permit us to really understand the way the conditions in which oil companies operate today have really changed and how many more are the actors involved in the process. If before the relations were between oil and gas companies plus their own governments on one side, and the national governments where the resources were located on the other side, today this scheme is too simple and it is necessary to add more players with vested interests.

Mossadegh Case In the 1950s there was a real unbalance between the revenues obtained by the oil companies and what was given to the national governments. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (A.P.O.C.)[i] was founded in 1909 in order to develop a large oil field in Masjed Soleiman in Iran. In the 1920s the revenues Iran was able to get were only 16 percent of the net revenues. For almost thirty years despite continued discussions between A.P.O.C. and the Iranian institutions nothing had really changed.[ii] Then, after negotiations concerning higher oil revenues for Iran had failed, on March 1951 the Iranian Parliament voted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. Following this event, Prime Minister Razmara, who had opposed the nationalization, was assassinated and the Parliament elected Mohammad Mossadegh as new prime minister. The new prime minister immediately enforced the Oil Nationalization Act. This meant the nationalization of Iran’s oil, the cancellation of the A.I.O.C.’s concession (A.P.O.C. had been renamed Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (A.I.O.C.) in 1935)  and the expropriation of the assets of the oil company in Iran. In response to this law, the U.K. government decided to support A.I.O.C. and to impede Iran to ship oil out of the country. In addition, the oil company called back all the technicians from Iran causing a de facto block of the oil production[iii]. Given disagreements with his former allies Mr. Mossadegh then dissolved Parliament using a referendum to avoid his own impeachment. Finally, he was removed from power on August 19, 1953, thanks to a military intervention. The coup d’état had been supported and funded by the British and American governments and received an important help by the C.I.A. (that run there the Operation Ajax)[iv]. After the regime change, the Iranian government was able to solve the dispute with A.I.O.C. A consortium of eight companies from four nations (U.K., U.S., Holland and France) was built up and restored the oil production technically under the National Iranian Oil Company.


This case explains how, before 1991, the real stakeholders in the oil and gas market were very few. In the Mossadegh case there were on one side three actors: the British multinational corporation A.P.O.C., its own government and the U.S. government. These three actors had an incredible power. Instead, on the other side, there were the weak Iranian institutions. In addition, the latter were very fragmented in regards to what was the best option for Iran. But in reality, the fact the Iranian institutions were not unified did not change a lot the outcome of the dispute. When the Oil Nationalization Act was passed into law 1951 there was a sort of unified nationalism across all the country (that was the peak of nationalism in Iran before 1979) but without delay, first A.P.O.C. retired its experts blocking the production of oil, and then the U.K. government, which was the only buyer of the Iranian oil, blocked any shipments of oil from going out of the Persian Gulf. For Iran the game was already lost at that moment. A multinational corporation like A.P.O.C. had a very strong power in order to impose its own agenda in an area of the world under, until that time, Western influence. In the Mossadegh Case, a direct intervention of countries belonging to the Eastern bloc would have been unimaginable. The Soviet Union was obviously interested in the rich Iranian oil reserves, but a direct intervention was out of question[v]. It would have seriously been capable of starting a direct confrontation with the U.S. (like some years later when it would occur with the Missiles Crisis in Cuba). In fact, on the world chessboard, Iran after World War II (in reality after April 1946 when the Soviet Union retired its troops from Iran) was under only the influence of Western countries. This easily explains why after the coup d’état eight Western companies from four states the U.S., the U.K., Holland and France were able to work in Iran. What was really missing at that time was a real system of checks and balances between M.N.C.s and  national governments. At that time, the side where there were oil and gas multinational corporations was always disproportionately stronger than the other one. In particular, for the national governments there was no real alternative to the M.N.C.s side. Not accepting the will of the M.N.C.s would have meant for a national state to start a confrontation with the countries that the involved M.N.C.s represented, then to be economically blocked with the final result that it would have not be able to sell its own oil. After a few weeks, the economy of the state would have been destroyed and then normally a harsh political domestic confrontation would have followed. And the government that had tried to challenge the M.N.C.s would have been replaced by one more complacent to the M.N.C.s will. In the end, it would have been a total gain for the M.N.C.s. Instead, after 1991, in the oil and gas sector something has changed and the Kashagan Case is a clear example of a much more complex international system (with many more actors) where the oil and gas multinational corporations  allied with their own governments — cannot anymore play as powerfully as they have done before when they used to force the national governments to their own agendas.

The Kashagan CaseKashagan Field is an oil field located in Kazakhstan, which, given its oil and gas resources, is one of the most interesting non-OPEC oil producing country. This field is located in the northern part of the Caspian Sea. It was discovered in 2000 and it seems to contain more than 38 billion of barrels (it should be capable of providing more than 1.5 million barrel per day). The Kashagan field is operated by Italy's ENI (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi[vi]) under the North Caspian Sea Production Sharing Agreement[vii]. This agreement includes seven companies: ENI, Shell, France's Total, U.S. Exxon-Mobil and ConocoPhillips, KazMunayGas (Kazakh) and Impex (Japanese).


This oil field is offshore in a very harsh environment with temperature ranging from -35° C in winter to 40° C in summer. In addition to this, the Caspian Sea has a very fragile biodiversity. The Kashagan field is located in a natural reserve close to the delta of the Ural River where live some species of animals like the European sturgeon, which currently risks disappearing. The shallow water of the Caspian Sea requires special boats to reach the wells, which are in the middle of the sea approximately 70 kilometers south of the city of Atyrau. Moreover, the consortium has been forced to build up special islands in order to drill off-shore. Last but not least, the pressure of gas and oil is very high (oil is 1,500 meters to 1,800 meters below the seabed under a very compact salt cap.

The initial agreement specified that the companies should have gotten 90 percent of the revenues with Kazakhstan keeping 10 percent of the total profits from the extracted oil. Obviously, Kazakhstan would have also received 8.33 percent of the corporate portion of production through KazMuniaiGaz, the state-owned oil and gas company of Kazakhstan (this 8.33 percent should have been added to the state portion of the extracted oil). Since the beginning the government wanted to have oil, gas and revenue as fast as possible. The production should have started in 2005, then ENI first postponed production to 2008 and then, in August 2007, to 2010 with a huge increase in costs from $57 billion to $136 billion. Probably, the supposed reason is linked to the fact that the oil contains mercaptan (a colorless gas also called hydrogen sulfide) which obliges the companies to clean the polluted oil. Notwithstanding all these difficulties, at Kashagan the investment will continue for two main reasons: an amount of more than $9 billion (out of the $19 billion envisaged) has already been spent and with oil prices well beyond $70 per barrel, also the most complicated oil to be drilled becomes interesting for the oil companies. On August 27, 2007, the government of Kazakhstan suspended all working activities at the Kashagan field because of environmental violations, “a move that mirrored the Kremlin’s first move against Shell at Sakhalin”[viii]. In addition to this, the Kazak government gave ENI 60 days to seal an accord (the deadline would have expired on October 22, 2007). If an agreement had not been found, the consortium could have been thrown out of the project concerning the development of Kashagan. Moreover, on September 27, 2007, the Parliament of Kazakhstan approved the law enabling the Kazakhstan government to alter or cancel contracts with foreign oil companies if the way they work threatens the national interests. Eventually, on October 7, 2007, the visit in Astana of the Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, together with a delegation of 200 people including Italian industrialists and bankers, was beneficial to the negotiating process because on October 22 — the day of the deadline — ENI and the government of Kazakhstan released a joint statement in which they affirmed that the parties had agreed to continue their negotiations beyond October 22, 2007, in a spirit of positive and constructive cooperation[ix]. At the moment this is the latest event and it is not clear what will happen in the next months.

Would this kind of negotiation between a consortium of multinational corporations (the oil companies) and a national government have been possible before 1991? The answer is probably no. And the principal reason is linked to the increased number of the actors involved in the process. If in the Mossadegh Case the actors were four, in the Kashogan Case the actors are at least 10: ENI, the other 5 oil companies (the sixth KazMunaiGaz is Kazakh and is linked to the national government), the government of Kazakhstan, the Italian government, the European Union (E.U.), the Russian government, Russian oil company Lukoil, N.G.O.s of different composition, financial institutions, China and India. The presence of so many stakeholders so interested in the development of the project, really gives to the Kazakh government a lot of negotiating power, although Kazakhstan alone would not be absolutely capable of exploiting the oil of Kashagan[x]. Now the government of Kazakhstan has a very different leverage in this dispute compared to similar situations all around the world in the previous decades and it can stop a project on the basis of environmental damages that ENI has not tried to avoid. In reality, these environmental reasons are really weak. In fact, in the previous months the government of Kazakhstan first has requested compensations for the delay in the beginning of the production, then it has asked for an increase in the profits of KazMunaiGaz, then it has wanted a compensation of $10 billion (which ENI or the other companies are not able to pay), then again it has stressed the necessity to increase the profits and to give a role of co-operator for KazMunaiGaz together with ENI. In other words, in the previous months there has been no real trace of environmental concerns. Instead, it is obvious that Kazakhstan wants to renegotiate the deal for monetary reasons principally linked to the fact that the increase in the costs of the project and the delay in the beginning of the production have forced Kazakhstan to reduce its forecasts for the amount of available economic resources in the next years. Given this situation, in any case:

There is little doubt that at the end of the day the consortium partners will have to pay more to the government and to accept greater scrutiny of future expenditures. They will have also to comply with some of the strictest environmental and safety rules in the industry, fully understandable given the fragility and uniqueness of the Caspian ecology and the deadly danger posed by hydrogen sulfide gas[xi]

Principal Actors in the Kashagan Case
ENI needs to find a solution with the government of Kazakhstan.

The Italian company has everything to win in operating the oil field and everything to lose in been thrown off from its position. If the company wants to continue to be one of the most important energy companies in the world it has to find a way to negotiate with the government of Kazakhstan.
All the other Western companies want ENI to be successful in the negotiating process.

An expropriation by the government of Kazakhstan would mean that all the partners in the consortium are going to be severely hit by the lost investment. Money is a critical issue.
The government wants to get a bigger share of the profits. The fact of not belonging anymore to a specific bloc gives the government of Kazakhstan much more negotiating power because it has now always the possibility to find another partner if the deal with the first partner does not work out well.

In addition, Kazakhstan’s environmentalist Tabigat (Nature) Party criticizes the oil industry and suggests it could be responsible for the environmental havoc in the Caspian Sea (for instance, the deaths of many seals).

The Caspian Environment Program is a regional umbrella program established by the Caspian littoral states and it receives aid by the international agencies.
The Italian government fully supports ENI. The visit of the prime minister, Romano Prodi has been done in order to lobby in favor of ENI. Not only the delegation (including businessmen and bankers) did speak about Kashagan, but also it spoke about many other economic deals that could be achieved between the two countries. In addition, the prime minister has reminded to the Kazakh government how strongly Italy could lobby in favor of the accession of Kazakhstan to the W.T.O.
The E.U. wants ENI to continue to be the operator of the Kashagan field. This is of vital importance for the E.U., which does not have many new relevant oil fields. Andris Piebalgs, the European commissioner for energy openly expressed the view that, in case of a serious stop for the consortium, the E.U. would  strongly support ENI[xii]. In addition to this, the E.U. is really concerned and cautioned Kazakhstan over the new oil law allowing Kazakhstan to break off contracts with foreign companies, warning that investors need a secure and predictable climate for large energy projects[xiii].
Russia is very interested in the Kashagan field. Moscow would like to assist to an integral nationalization of the Kashagan field by the Kazakh authorities and then to substitute the operator ENI with the Russian oil company Lukoil[xiv]. Russia pushes for a solution similar to Sakhalin II. 




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The principal document to be examined for a clear understanding is the “Preliminary N.G.O. Fact Finding Mission Report” of September 4-13 2007[xv]. According to the report:
A) some N.G.O.s insist on the environmental concerns related to the fact that the Kashagan field has a very fragile biodiversity and that it is located in a natural reserve close to the delta of the Ural River, which hosts many rare animals (like the European sturgeon and the seal). Other environmental concerns are related to the fact that, in winter, ice could create serious damages to the artificial islands and the undersea pipelines, resulting in oil spillover.
B) Some N.G.O.s insist on health concerns for the residents of the area (for example in the city of Atyrau). Principally these organizations point out the risk of toxic exposure and mass poisoning to hydrogen sulfide and other sulfates, which have to be separated from oil.
C) Some N.G.O.s insist on the fact that local residents have never been included in any public form of consultation regarding the project while Kazakh law requires public hearings.
D) Some N.G.O.s insist on social concerns explaining that the Kashagan field threatens the livelihood of millions of residents in the area. In fact, oil development in the area places at risk tourism and fishing activities and prevent investment in other economic ventures that could contribute to the sustainability of the region.
E) Some N.G.O.s insist on the fact that the majority of workers employed in the Kashagan Project are not local residents but come from other part of Kazakhstan, Russia or abroad.
The three major banks involved in Kashagan are: BNP Paribas, Citigroup and Société Générale. Part of the project is also financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (E.B.R.D.).

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (J.B.I.C.), which is an export credit agency, is financing Inpex together with three Japanese banks: Mitsui, Mitsubishi and Mizuho.

BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Société Générale and the E.B.R.D. are requiring that the financing to be put in place to include provisions for the project to be compliant with the Equator Principles[xvi], which call for a full environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) and associated action plans to comply with I.F.C. performance standards and World Bank pollution prevention and abatement standards.
China is always more interested in the Kazakh oil giving its increasing necessity of energy. In particular, China and Kazakhstan started collaboration in the energy sector in 1997 and in 2005 an oil pipeline between western Kazakhstan and China’s Xinjiang Province was completed. This pipeline is designed to transmit 20 million tons of oil a year.
Similarly to China, India has a huge necessity of energy, and Kazakhstan could provide this energy. Since 2005, there have been specific Indo-Kazakh bilateral ties.

A national government is using — although only pro forma — environmental tools that not long ago would have been unimaginable in such a situation. Concepts deriving from international environmental law were simply out of question until few years ago. But today this body of laws although not really binding  is emerging and in the Kashagan case it is creating a sort of temporary alliance between N.G.O.s, which are seriously committed to the real damages engendered by oil companies, and national governments, which are seriously committed to get more money from their own resources. N.G.O.s, which until few years ago did not have any means to voice their opinions, now utilizing modern ways of communication, may easily voice their concerns.

Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan, is sending out the message:
That the international oil companies will be subject to ever increasing control, ever higher taxes and obligations and will ultimately have to concede both ownership and control. All this is provided for in the P.S.A. [production sharing agreement] of course, but could take place well before 2037, when the P.S.A. expires. Ultimately speeding up the process is what the current talks are all about. With billions of dollars still to be invested in a long-term project several years away from delivering at full regime, the oil companies still have powerful cards in their hands. With oil at US$80 a barrel there is still plenty for everyone and the government’s share is bound to rise now, and over the longer time frame. But Kazakhstan is not Russia. It remains far more amenable to the idea of win-win solutions which leave foreign investors feeling both comfortable and valued  even if slightly less well off than they may once have hoped.[xvii]

Conclusion — The two cases well explain two situations in which there is a confrontation between an M.N.C. and a national state. But, the outcomes are completely different. The first example ended with a total victory of the involved M.N.C. The second example testifies a radical change in power relation between oil and gas companies on one side, and national states on the other side. As mentioned before, this evolution is directly linked to the emergence on the international stage of many more actors that before 1991 were or hidden or were absolutely incapable of expressing their position. In other words, the second example shows how an increased number of actors in the relation M.N.C. versus national government does not mean anymore a complete victory of the M.N.C. In fact, increasing the number of actors means giving more alternatives. The result is a balance of power that will only in a partial manner continue to benefit more M.N.C.s than national states. In fact, the relation is not anymore so disproportionately favorable to the M.N.C.s side as it was before. Maybe in other business sectors in today’s world, M.N.C.s are gaining more power but according to the two cases considered with reference to the M.N.C.s operating in the oil and gas sectors the result seems to be the opposite.

[i] A.P.O.C. was renamed in 1935 in Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (A.I.O.C.) and eventually it became the British Petroleum Company (BP) in 1954.
[ii]The International Court of Justice was called in to settle the dispute, but a 50/50 profit-sharing arrangement, with recognition of nationalization, was rejected by both the British government and Prime Minister Mossadegh. At this point direct negotiations between the British and the Iranian government ceased, and over the course of 1951, the British ratcheted up the pressure on the Iranian government and explored the possibility of a coup against it.
[iii] The situation was particularly harsh for Iran because Iran was mainly exporting its oil to Great Britain. An industry that before the nationalization brought over $100 million had become to increase Iran’s debt.     
[iv] FISK, B., La Grande Guerre Pour la Civilisation, L’Occident à la Conquête du Moyen-Orient (1979-2005), La Découverte, Paris, 2005, pp. 123-167
[v]The only doable actions were indirect actions. For example, the Soviet Union in those years funded the Iranian communist party whose name was Tudeh. 
[vii]ENI was nominated operator in 2001 and then decided to undergo the change in name to Agip Kazakstan North Caspian Operating Company (AGIP K.C.O.). See:  
[viii] ROBINSON, A., Have the Oil Majors Bitten Off More Than Every They Can Chew With Kashagan?, in, October 21, 2007. In Sakhalin, Shell admitting to have to face cost worth $22 billion versus the previous estimated $10 billion with reference to the L.N.G. project created an ideal opportunity for Russia to modify the contract. Shell’s stake was reduced from 55 percent to 25 percent and the control passed from Shell to Gazprom.     
[ix] MARKEVIC, S., ENI-Kazakhstan: Siglato Memorandum, Si Va Verso Accordo, in, October 24, 2007. ARPAIA, A., Le Nostre “Campagne” Energetiche All’Estero: Il Kazakistan, in, October 15 2007. AFP, Kazakhstan, Consortium Agree To Continue Talks On Giant Oilfield, in, October 22, 2007.     
[x] One of the reasons for the inclusion of KazMunaiGaz in the consortium is – apart the revenues  principally for acquiring the expertise to work oil fields located in very difficult areas.   
[xi] ROBINSON, A., Have the Oil Majors Bitten Off More Than Every They Can Chew With Kashagan?, in, October 21, 2007.
[xii] UTKIN, E., Così Cambierò il Mercato dell’Energia in Europa. E farò Felici i Consumatori, in, September 18, 2007.
[xiii] AP, EU Concerned With Kazakh Law Allowing It To Cancel Foreign Oil Contracts, in, October 25, 2007. 
[xiv] KOVALEV, N., ENI-Kazakhstan, Un Conflitto Diretto Da Mosca, in, September 12, 2007.
[xv] This document written by national and international N.G.O.s explains the different problems linked to Kashagan Field. In:
[xvii] ROBINSON, A., The Kazakhstan Government Would Probably Like to Do A Russian Style Grab for Major Oil and Gas Assets but Does It Have the Wherewithal?, in, October 28 ,2007.




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