News / Economy

Exxon Oil Rig Enters Uncharted Waters of Russian Political Storm

FILE - A sign for the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, California, Jan. 30, 2012
FILE - A sign for the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, California, Jan. 30, 2012
Reuters

An ordinary, long-scheduled journey of an oil drilling rig into Arctic waters is turning into a major political exercise, attracting international scrutiny and creating a dilemma for ExxonMobil Corp.

Exxon, the top U.S. oil major and the world's most valued oil company, is bringing the rig, called West Alpha, from Norway to the Russian Arctic. It is hoping for a major discovery in the Kara Sea with Russian partner Rosneft Oil Co.

The journey has begun just as the United States has slapped the toughest sanctions yet on Russia, including on Rosneft, over escalating violence in Ukraine. Further sanctions are likely after the downing of a Malaysia Airlines' plane in eastern Ukraine.

The joint activity does not necessarily break the latest sanctions, but the rig's mission could be seen a sign that a top U.S. company is backing Moscow.

Arctic exploration costs can exceed hundreds of millions of dollars. The Exxon-Rosneft drilling campaign, therefore, will also show how effective the latest sanctions prove to be in prohibiting U.S. firms from providing new long-term debt or equity to Rosneft.

“It's a bit discordant with the message that the United States government is trying to send, having this long-planned summer drilling season go ahead right now,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg, energy program director at the Center for a New American Security think-tank and a former sanctions adviser at the Treasury Department.

From a broader perspective, the project will indicate the resolve of major oil companies to continue dealing with Russia even as conflict escalates with the West.

“We are evaluating the impact of the sanctions and don't have anything further at this time,” Exxon said in emailed comments.

For the Kremlin, the project will become a balancing act between achieving its goals of raising oil output and government revenue and the risk of pushing foreign partners so hard that they run up against the sanctions regime.

West Alpha belongs to Norway-listed Seadrill, the world's biggest offshore rig firm, and Exxon has contracted the rig until the third quarter of 2016.

Seadrill Chief Financial Officer Rune Magnus Lundetrae told Reuters the rig had already sailed from the Norwegian yard and was on its way to the Kara Sea.

“She's on her way up now from the yard where she's been preparing for that activity ... Drilling will start within the third quarter. We're in early Q3 now, so we're talking about this quarter,” he said.

Lundetrae declined to discuss the latest U.S. sanctions: “We are preparing to drill and will deal with situations as they occur.”

Satellite tracking showed the rig was heading towards Russia along the Norwegian coast.

Spillover Effects

The latest U.S. sanctions do not necessarily aim to hit projects between Rosneft and foreign partners.

President Barack Obama said the sanctions were “designed to have maximum impact on Russia while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those who are allies.”

But Obama also warned that additional steps were on the table if Russia does not change course in eastern Ukraine - a signal that joint ventures with U.S. companies could face risks.

Exxon has shown in the past it can take decisions that do not fully align with U.S. policies.

In one recent example, Exxon's decided to invest in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region two years ago despite anger from the central government in Baghdad and opposition from Washington.

Still, observers should not look at the long-planned Exxon Arctic project as an indication that companies are not wary about the sanctions, or that they will not have an effect, said Rosenberg.

“You'd be missing the point if you took one drilling season, what is ultimately at this point a pretty limited joint venture activity, and weighed it quite heavily against the president of the United States,” she said.

The West Alpha journey also will be watched by environmentalists, who call for a ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic. Earlier this year, Greenpeace climbers scaled the West Alpha rig.

Truls Gulowsen, head of Greenpeace Norway, could not say whether Greenpeace was planning another protest.  

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7878
JPY
USD
106.98
GBP
USD
0.6230
CAD
USD
1.1220
INR
USD
61.226

Rates may not be current.