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Exxon, Russia Eye Oil and Gas in Disputed South China Sea

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VietGazprom, Rosneft Vietnam

PetroVietnam also has a joint venture with the Russian state-owned company Gazprom; it goes by the name VietGazprom. Together, they operate five offshore blocks in the South China Sea.

Gazprom began negotiations to buy a 49 percent stake in Vietnam's sole oil refinery, the Dung Quat refinery, in April 2015 but walked away from the potential deal in January 2016.

Rosneft, the Russian state-owned company which maintains close business ties with Exxon, also has skin in the game for offshore drilling in Vietnam through its subsidiary Rosneft Vietnam. The project is Rosneft's first international offshore project.

"The implementation of projects in Vietnam is one of the priority [sic] of Rosneft's international strategy," said Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, a close ally of Putin, of the project in a March 2016 press release. "The development of offshore fields in one of the most dynamically growing Asia-Pacific region country is a remarkable example of high-tech cooperation with our partners … We appreciate not only the current progress of joint projects implementation in Vietnam, but also the future prospects for their development."

Rosneft and PetroVietnam signed a joint cooperation agreement in May 2016, which includes but is not limited to offshore drilling, that will further bolster the ties between Rosneft and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

"The agreement provides for the expansion of cooperation between the parties in Russia, Vietnam and third countries in the area of hydrocarbon exploration and production (including offshore), processing, commerce and logistics, as well as staff training," reads a Rosneft press release. "The parties agreed to consider potential options for joint projects and define the basic terms of cooperation as well as establish a working group for each of the areas of cooperation."

Rosneft also co-owns the underwater Nam Con Son Pipeline on a 32.7 percent basis through its subsidiary Rosneft Vietnam Pipelines, which is also owned on a 51 percent basis by PetroVietnam.

Indonesia

Exxon is a co-owner of the production sharing agreement between Indonesian state-owned company Pertamina and Thailand state-owned company PTT Public Company Limited, the three of which produce offshore gas from the East Natuna field.

In recent months, as with Vietnam, tensions have ratcheted up between Indonesia and China over the disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Philippines

Exxon previously had a stake in offshore wells in the Philippines in the South China Sea, which it sold in 2011 to Mitra Energy (now Jadestone Energy). Exxon decided to sell off the wells after it failed to produce commercial-scale levels of oil and gas.

"ExxonMobil drilled the four wells to test a new exploration play concept," Exxon said in a statement in 2011. "While it encountered gas in three of the four wells drilled, non-commercial quantities of gas were found and ExxonMobil will withdraw from [the project] and resign as the operator."

In 2014, Exxon expressed interest in the Philippines' offshore reserves up for offer once again, according to an official statement made by the Philippines Department of Energy (DOE). But that bid did not go anywhere, with the DOE suspending all oil and gas exploration in the area due to the territorial dispute with China.

Malaysia

In 1997 Exxon signed a production sharing agreement with Malaysian state-owned company PETRONAS. Six years later, the two companies began their first major drilling project in the South China Sea at the Bintang natural gas field.

A decade later in March 2013, Exxon began production in Malaysia's South China Sea-based Telok offshore gas basin, a project it co-owns on a 50-50 basis with PETRONAS.

Exxon began phase two of Telok with PETRONAS in 2014, with the two projects together making up 15 percent of the country's oil production and half its natural gas output. That same year, Exxon signed another $2.6 billion 50-50 ownership stake deal with PETRONAS for an enhanced oil recovery project in the South China Sea.

"Exxon's Malaysian subsidiary operates 34 platforms in 12 fields and has an interest in another 10 platforms in five fields in the South China Sea," reported the Houston Chronicle, putting the enhanced oil recovery project deal into context. "Those fields supply about 20 percent of Malaysia's crude oil output and condensate and 50 percent of Peninsular Malaysia's natural gas needs."

"Oil-Coated Glasses"

Today, Tillerson has sold all of his Exxon stock, which normally would have been deferred to him over a period of time post-retirement. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) recently said he worries Tillerson will see the world through "oil-coated glasses," given Exxon's multicontinental reach to every continent on the planet besides Antarctica.

But as the South China Sea shows, even if not dealing directly with oil and gas reserves, "black gold" can still loom large when considering geopolitical and foreign policy negotiations. Some believe Tillerson, from that vantage point, is a fatally flawed choice.

"The proportion of Tillerson's job that would have the appearance of conflict is just enormous," David Arkush, managing director for Public Citizen's climate program, recently told Bloomberg. "If someone has to recuse himself from that many matters, he has no business being in that role."

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

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