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Novatek to complete talks on Arctic LNG 2 in H1

Moscow — Russia's Novatek said Thursday it expected to complete talks with a potential fourth foreign partner for Arctic LNG 2 by the end of June in order to take the final investment decision in the third quarter.

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The comments come after Russian daily Vedomosti reported that talks with Saudi Aramco on cooperation on the project have been dropped because Aramco found the terms unattractive.

Aramco was widely expected to join the 19.8 million mt/year LNG project in the Russian Arctic Gydan peninsula, following encouraging comments on the issue from both Russian and Saudi Arabian energy ministers late last year. The deal was initially expected to be completed by the end of 2018 but no firm agreements had been reached.

"There is no deal, as Novatek gave [the stake eyed by the Saudis] to China," Vedomosti said, citing an unnamed source close to the talks. Risks of potential new US sanctions against Russia were also named as a reason for the deal falling apart.

On Wednesday, Saudi Aramco inked a preliminary deal to take a 25% stake in US Sempra Energy's proposed Port Arthur LNG export project, which also includes a long-term commitment for 5 million mt/year of offtake from the facility.

Novatek, which would "not comment on the progress of specific negotiations", said it planned to complete talks with potential partners for the project in the first half of the year.

"We are planning to take the final investment decision on the Arctic LNG 2 project in the third quarter of 2019," it said, reiterating previously announced timeframes.

Novatek earlier said it planned to retain a 60% stake in the project, while selling the remaining interest to foreign partners to share financial risks and secure markets for its future LNG.

Analysts said the news did not come as a surprise after Novatek in April sold 20% in the project to two Chinese companies, CNODC and CNOOC, in addition to a 10% interest given to France's Total in March.

Saudi Aramco was said to be eyeing up to 30%.

"Thus, the news does not come as a surprise for the market, we think," analysts at VTB Capital said in a note. "Overall, we deem the news as neutral for the name," they said.

Novatek officials earlier named Japanese companies among those interested in the project, apart from Saudi Arabia and China. Total also has an option to increase its current 10% stake in the Arctic LNG -2 to 15% if Novatek reduces its stake to below 60%.

Novatek plans to commission the first train of Arctic LNG 2 in 2023, before reaching full capacity in 2026. Plans include three trains on the Gydan peninsula.

Novatek , together with its partners, has successfully launched three trains of its first flagship LNG project in the Yamal peninsula, each with a capacity of 5.5 million mt. A fourth train of 1 million mt is due to be launched in late 2019. Total, as well as CNPC and China's Silk Road Fund are partners in this project.

-- Nadia Rodova, nadia.rodova@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Dan Lalor, daniel.lalor@spglobal.com