Exxon Mobil Corp. and other energy companies have voiced deep concerns regarding the anti-Russian sanctions bill which has been mulled over in the US Congress since mid-June.
The legislation is meant to toughen sanctions against Russia, targeting its energy sector among other things. To make matters even more complicated, US lawmakers are seeking to codify the sanctions into law, thus preventing the White House from weakening them unilaterally.
"By now [the anti-Russian sanctions] have been implemented as an executive order which could be canceled anytime by the US President. If they are adopted as a federal law, it would require Congressional approval to abolish them. These sanctions could remain in place for decades. A classic [example] is the Jackson-Vanik amendment (which was created to exert pressure on the Soviet Union), which continued to exist long after the USSR had collapsed," Professor Viktor Kheifets of Saint-Petersburg State University told Radio Sputnik.
The initiative triggered concerns among the White House's officials and prompted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call upon lawmakers not to tie the hands of the Trump administration.
"I would urge Congress to ensure any legislation allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions," Tillerson told lawmakers in June, as quoted by The Hill.
The Wall Street Journal pointed out Monday that "the pushback from energy companies such as Exxon and Chevron Corp. — and from some companies in other industries — threatens to complicate House passage of the legislation."
The American oil companies have good reason to worry: over the recent few years they have maintained working relations with their Russian counterparts, Russian online newspaper Vzglyad writes.
For example, back in 2011 the Russian corporation Rosneft and ExxonMobil struck an agreement on the exploration and production of crude, both in Russia and the US. ExxonMobil was given an opportunity to take part in the development of three East Prinovozemelsky fields in the Kara Sea, as well as to participate in the Tuapse Trough project in the Black Sea.
Needless to say, the new bill will deal the final blow to the prospects of joint US-Russian energy projects if it comes into force; on the other hand, it could make US businesses less competitive, American oil giants warn.
"For example, if the United States is involved in any energy project across the globe, according to the expanded scope of the sanctions, the involvement of a Russian entity at any level on that project could exclude US companies from partnerships and allow competitors to gain competitive advantages," Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said Friday, as cited by the Washington Examiner.
"I believe that they are afraid of not just the new set of sanctions but the possibility that [the bill] will delay the abolishment of previous bans. ExxonMobil has already suffered from the first sanction wave. It had joint ventures in Russia aimed at developing the Arctic shelf. They even drilled [for oil] in the Kara Sea together for Rosneft, where the Pobeda deposit was discovered," Yushkov told Vzglyad.
"Chevron had only one project with Rosneft in the Black Sea. However the American oil companies had to freeze all these [projects]. They are afraid that if [the US] imposes new sanctions [on Moscow], the unlocking of their projects in Russia will take a very long time," the Russian expert stressed.
Still, the situation is further complicated by the fact that the new package of sanctions plays directly into the hands of American LNG companies, Yushkov noted.
Indeed, the bill could negatively affect the joint Russo-European project called Nord Stream 2 and undermine the position of Gazprom in the EU energy market.
"If the United States expels Russia from the gas market in Europe, it will flood [the continent] with the US LNG [liquefied natural gas]. This would provide more benefits for the US economy than the preservation of individual ExxonMobil and Chevron projects," the expert assumed, adding that "many more jobs will be created [for the Americans] through the expansion of LNG exports."
While only time will tell what fruit the struggle over the new anti-Russian sanctions bill will bear, Rosneft won't seriously suffer from abandoning its overseas projects with ExxonMobil and Chevron, the expert remarked, referring to two Russo-American initiatives in the US and Canada.
The only thing that could be of interest of the Russian company in overseas projects is new technologies, Yushkov remarked.