Status of Russian Petroleum Legislation

By Skelton, James W., Jr. | Houston Journal of International Law, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Status of Russian Petroleum Legislation


Skelton, James W., Jr., Houston Journal of International Law


  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. THE JOINT VENTURE LAW
III. THE LAW ON OIL AND GAS
 IV. THE LAW ON PRODUCTION SHARING AGREEMENTS
  V. THE SUBSOIL LAW
 VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

The Author's first exposure to the laws of the Soviet Union and Russia took the form of an international contract conference presentation in Moscow in October 1989. (1) The Ministry of Geology, the main point of contact in the Soviet Union for foreign investors, had invited the Author's employer to make a presentation about the three main types of international petroleum contracts (tax royalty/concession agreements, service contracts, and production sharing agreements), covering both the legal and economic aspects of each. (2) Three specialists and an interpreter were sent to conduct the conference. (3) There were many lawyers in attendance from various institutes around the country, as well as a few KGB agents and some Ministry personnel. Many insightful questions were asked, and it was apparent that there was a fairly high level of understanding of many issues. (4)

Although the Author was convinced that the audience would view the tax/royalty system, which is basically the modern concession agreement, as the most suited to their own administrative law system, they were indifferent to the suggestion. (5) Unfortunately, due to the bad experience with concession agreements during the 1920s, (6) the Russians viewed these agreements as giveaways. (7) So, concession agreements had a bad name, and the audience was not interested for that reason. The attendees said, in effect, it didn't work before, so what else can you tell us about? (8)

It was made clear to the audience that international oil companies prefer to acquire equity interests in available properties and would usually not be interested in entering into a service contract unless it was the only option. (9) As a consequence, not much time was devoted to discussing service contracts, which shifted the focus of the legal presentation to the production sharing agreement (PSA) form of investment. (10) It became a theoretical discussion, however, because the existing legislation would not support such a system.

II. THE JOINT VENTURE LAW

The only legislation that existed in the Soviet Union in connection with foreign investment from 1987 to early 1992 was the Joint Venture Law (JV Law). (11) The JV Law permitted a foreign investor to own an interest in a Soviet limited liability joint venture company (JVC) that was formed with an existing domestic license holder to obtain the rights to develop an oil field under a reissued license. (12) Due to the lack of alternatives and the desire to participate in the Russian oil industry, a few foreign investors entered into such joint venture agreements (JVAs). (13) Most of these joint ventures were established through the execution of a JVA between a U.S. or European international oil or service company and a Russian exploration or production association, followed by the registration and formation of a JVC. (14) All of these JVCs suffered through countless changes in the tax laws, increases in the rates of tariffs and taxes, battles for VAT refunds, and pipeline access complications throughout the 1990s. (15) It was, therefore, no wonder that the foreign investors became convinced that the PSA approach must be a better way to make investments in Russia. (16)

In general, JVCs were subject to the infamous current tax regime (CTR), there were no exemptions from any of the tax laws, and those that were granted on an ad hoc basis were short term in nature and subject to change without notice. (17) Investors came face to face with the fact that once a foreign investor was captured within a JVC in Russia it was subject to all new and amended laws, the JVA lacked tax and fiscal stability, and neither the JVC nor the foreign investor was in privity of contract with either the federal government or the local government, both of which were the ones that granted the JVC the ultimate rights through the license.

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