By Barney Smith
It cannot have been much fun. The authoritative French newspaper, Le Monde, in the edition of 25 August had an editorial, as well as two pages inside and the front page headline, all saying essentially the same thing, TotalEnergies’ Gas is fueling Russian Bombers in Ukraine. The front page headline makes the point that, contrary to other (western) Oil and Gas companies like BP, Shell, Exxon and even ENI, TotalEnergies has remained in isolation in Russia, which holds 20 per cent of its production and reserves.
The editorial suggests that it is time the French Government stopped shutting its eyes to the activities of TotalEnergies in Russia. Whatever the legal niceties, the potential for reputational damage is huge, not just for the company, but by implication, for France itself. Is it really credible that a prominent western oil company can plausibly argue that it has no involvement and thus no legal responsibility for the shipment of kerosene via Omsk to Russian bomber bases ?
For its part, Total Energies claim that they are doing nothing illegal in allowing the condensate produced by Ternaftgaz (49 % held by TotalEnergies) to be used as Ternaftgaz see fit. For EU sanctions concern oil, not condensate, a by-product of gas production, and the production of gas is not illegal.
Much of the work on which the detailed article is based was conducted by three prominent NGOs: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Global Witness. They claim to have proof that there is a direct link between the condensate produced by the refinery in Omsk and the delivery of kerosene to the Russian bomber bases at Morovskaia and Machevo, whence the Sukhotai had launched the attacks in Mariopol in March.
The follow up article in Le Monde dated 27 August announced both that the French Deputy Minister of Transport has ordered an immediate investigation and reported the press communique issued by Total Energies on 25 August stated that « the allegations of certain medias…. have no foundation in fact »
We must wait at least for the French Government to assess the reputational damage from this affair. But it may be worth noting that as long ago as 28 April, TotalEnergies took a fresh charge of 4,1 billion dollars against the possibility that future EU sanctions against technology exports harmed Russian exposure to Arctic LNG, a project in Siberia in which TotalEnergies took an interest in 2018.