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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paper: FSB Hounds Overseas Oil Firms

VedomostiDeputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov
Security officials are going after foreign oil experts for using maps the state considers to be classified information, Vedomosti reported Monday, citing a government minister and oil employees.

Oil major TNK-BP has had some of its operations in Western Siberia frozen by the Federal Security Service on the grounds it violated the law on state secrets, the newspaper said, citing Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov.

Vedomosti suggested that security officials were using the issue to muscle foreigners out of Russia's lucrative oil business. The companies use detailed maps to pinpoint exact drilling sites.

"We are not aware of any projects that have been suspended in Western Siberia," TNK-BP spokesman Peter Henshaw said. TNK-BP is a British-Russian joint venture. Legislation on state secrets "is an ongoing issue in the sector," Henshaw added.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, declined to comment Monday.

As far back as last summer TNK-BP board member Viktor Vekselberg highlighted the issue of classified information. "Everything concerning oil reserves falls into the state secret category," Vekselberg told Vedomosti at the time.

The classified maps problem centers around a law that puts certain detailed, larger-scale maps off-limits for foreigners.

The policy of making maps of a certain scale classified dates back to Soviet times.

"There are more detailed maps on the Internet," Vladimir Milov, president of the Institute for Energy Policy, said on Ekho Moskvy radio Monday.

In an effort to get around the laws, some oil companies are outsourcing map-related work to Russian firms.

"This creates extra technical work for our staff but avoids all issues regarding state secrets," said Yelena Zakupneva, a spokeswoman for Salym Petroleum Development, a joint venture between Shell and Sibir Energy.

Salym Petroleum Development has outsourced all survey work and other cartography tasks since the late 1990s, Zakupneva said.

"We have never been pressured by the FSB," she said, adding that about 17 percent of the company's staff was foreign.

The issue resurfaces at a time when the ownership of Russia's strategic assets is coming to the fore, with a new law being prepared by the government to determine who will have the right to develop assets.

The draft law on foreign participation in strategic sectors is set to be approved by the Cabinet this month, Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said last week.

A high-ranking government official told Vedomosti that the law would clarify the classified maps issue.The law's provisions would require oil companies to create divisions staffed solely by Russians to carry out cartography work, Vedomosti reported Monday, citing the official.