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Fears of gas cartel ease

Major gas producers’ decision to set up a panel to examine gas prices should put fears of a cartel to an end - at least temporarily.

At their meeting in Doha, Qatar, on Monday, major producers, including Russia, Iran and Venezuela, said they would set up a group called the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, which is to be headed by Russia. Western nations feared that the gas producers would set up a cartel similar to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but the Monday decision has been hinted at for some time. When reports of the cartel first emerged, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that even if a gas cartel was not formed, producers should coordinate their policies.

„If consumers of hydrocarbons coordinate their actions, like in the International Energy Agency and at other venues, what prevents producers from coordinating their actions, too?” he asked at the time. „This coordination will not be aimed at undermining energy security; it will be aimed, and I hope it will, and Russia will act in this direction, at strengthening the international energy market.” The West feared that an OPEC-like cartel would lead to high gas prices. At the forum in Qatar, Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said the forum should remain unchanged. „It should continue existing as such and should keep up its transparent and coordinated position toward consuming countries,” he said.

Opec: oil price geopolitical
OPEC’s president said the recent increase in oil prices was caused by Tehran’s detention of British sailors, not any supply problems. Mohammed bin Dhaen al-Hamli said geopolitics, not supply and demand, was the main driver of oil prices. Oil is trading at just over $68 per barrel, up from $60 last month. „Oil markets are very balanced. The rise in oil prices was due to geopolitics,” he said while attending a natural-gas meeting in Qatar.

Hamli also said OPEC’s spare capacity is 3 million to 3.5 million barrels per day, the global energy information firm Platts reported. He said refining capacity is being reduced because of maintenance and repairs, especially in the United States. „Refineries in the US are running at 87%,” said Hamli, also the oil minister for the United Arab Emirates.

Turkey, France spat holds up Nabucco pipeline
The suspension of talks between Turkey and Gaz de France on the Nabucco pipeline over a French bill that calls the killing of Armenians in World War I genocide adds more uncertainty to whether the pipeline will be built. France’s National Assembly approved the measure last October, a decision that affected ties between the two countries. France’s Senate is to take up the measure soon.

Turkey maintains there was no genocide of Armenians during World War I. The $6.1 billion Nabucco pipeline bypasses Russia, Europe’s No. 1 gas source, and also involves Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. It would increase gas supplies in the region and would bring mostly Central Asian gas to Europe. But the pipeline has been stalled for a decade. Already, Hungary is believed to prefer another pipeline option - the Blue Stream pipeline - over Nabucco because of the time taken for that pipeline to develop.

„Some reproach Hungary for considering the Blue Stream pipeline. Well, the reason is that it is not certain yet that the Nabucco pipeline will be built at all,” Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány said last month. „Hungary does not want to fall between two stools. The Nabucco pipeline has been in the planning phase for 10 years.” (