x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

OMV turns towards upstream after Nabucco rejection

A long held pipeline dream came to an end for OMV last week, the Austrian oil and gas company that is part-owned by Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Company, but may give it more certainty on its future investment strategy.

A long-held pipeline dream last week came to an end for OMV, the Austrian oil and gas company that is part-owned by Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic).

The Nabucco pipeline project, and ambitious project to link the Shah Deniz gasfield in Azerbaijan to the European market, was rejected in favour of a rival pipeline.

The decision could have been expected to be a major blow for OMV, the leading company on the project. In fact, the pipeline had been subject to a decade of intense political wrangling and downsizing.

Its failure could hardly have surprised the company. Instead, it may give OMV more certainty on its future investment strategy.

"OMV's management has stated clearly that their upstream strategy depends on Nabucco," said Oleg Galbur, an analyst with Raiffeisen Centrobank.

"It won't change the weight of the [upstream] segment in terms of the capex [capital expenditure], but their regional focus will change. Turkey and the Caspian will not be the company's focus as much."

The company has for some time committed to a shift towards oil and gas production, at the expense of refining, a sector where tight margins leave little room for profit.

"The upstream is going to be the segment where the company will look to spend more in the future. It's a wise decision to invest there and move away from the downstream," said Attila Vago, an analyst for Concorde Securities.

This focus has driven OMV to expand its geographical reach from its core of Austria and Romania.

With Ipic owning a quarter of the company, a focus on Abu Dhabi comes naturally. OMV was in the news last week when it signed an exploration agreement with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company for a field in the emirate's eastern region.

The company began its upstream quest in Abu Dhabi last year when it partnered with Germany's Wintershall to explore a gasfield near Shuwaihat.

Should the testing be successful the two companies will enter a concession with Adnoc to exploit the field.

OMV was already active in Abu Dhabi though the Borealis petrochemicals joint venture with Ipic.

Its regional exposure is complemented by a stake in the Bina Bawi-3 field in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where a test well has just struck oil. With the Kurdish Regional Government about to complete its own oil pipeline, payments to oil and gas companies that have been withheld by the central government in Baghdad are likely to be made soon.

Meanwhile the company has been busy divesting its refinery assets. But it has held on to its majority stake in the Central European Gas Hub, an Austria-based gas exchange based on a 2,000 kilometre pipeline network.