* Russia’s gas supply relation to Europe would not easily break down
* Tension over Ukraine unlikely to hit Yamal LNG project
* China’s gas imports from Yamal seen “significant”
* Facing pressure from Yemen LNG to hike prices
By Meeyoung Cho
GOYANG, South Korea, March 24 (Reuters) - Tension between Russia and the West may spur the U.S. to speed up approvals for more projects to export gas, said the head of a UK-based unit of France’s Total group, as Europe looks for other sources of fuel supply.
European worries about the security of energy supplies have grown since Russian forces seized control of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine this month. Moscow has in years past cut gas supplies amid regional disputes.
Yet, the gas supply partnership between Russia and Europe is not likely to fall apart easily, Philippe Sauquet, president of Total Gas & Power, told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
“Even if we are concerned, ultimately we are confident. ... There is a balance that has been achieved over time ... (and) we anticipate this will continue,” he said.
“Russia and Europe cannot at least easily divorce.”
Sauquet is in South Korea for an international gas conference this week.
Given the escalating risks in gas supply through Ukraine from Russia, though, Sauquet said he thinks the U.S. congress and energy policymakers will speed up the process on further approvals for U.S. gas shipments.
Signals out of the United States have been mixed, however, with some lawmakers wanting to maintain a slow approach on export approvals. Others point out that quicker approvals would not help in the current crisis as U.S. LNG exports are not likely to be broadly available before 2017.
The U.S. Department of Energy is working its way down a list of more than 20 applications for LNG export licenses. It has approved six since 2011, but the first project is not expected to begin exporting until late next year. The other five still need approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Sauquet also said the deteriorating relations between Russia and the West is unlikely to affect Yamal liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, which is in the early stages of development.
Earlier this month Total SA Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie said it will keep investing in Russia and its Yamal LNG project despite tensions over Ukraine.
Yamal LNG will only start producing in a few years, and as well it is mostly targeting Asian buyers, Sauquet said.
“Therefore, a real subject of debates is more on the piped-delivery between Russia and Europe, rather than around LNG projects,” he said.
Russian gas producer Novatek, together with Total and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), is developing the $26.9 billion Yamal LNG project, which is due to deliver the first seaborne gas by 2017 from the Arctic. Total, which has been in Russia since 1991, owns 20 percent of the project.
Over Chinese gas demand from Yamal project, Sauquet said that they are still discussing with CNPC to finalise the supply volume, and just added the volume will be “significant.”
He also confirmed the company has faced pressure to pay more for the 2.1 million tonnes of liquefied gas it buys from Yemen LNG every year, which are now mostly shipped to Asia.
But he declined to say how much of an increase might be expected as talks are still under way. (Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by Tom Hogue)