Romania Tweaks Tax Law to Drive Offshore Black Sea Gas Investments

May 18, 2022

Credit: OMV Petrom (File photo)
Credit: OMV Petrom (File photo)

After years of stalling, Romanian lawmakers approved legislation on Wednesday to reduce taxes on future income from offshore gas projects, hoping it would unlock investment in the Black Sea to extract its sizeable reserves.

As Europe grapples with an energy crisis amid the war in Ukraine, analysts said Romania could, in the long term, challenge Russian Gazprom's dominant role in central and eastern Europe, diversify gas supplies and bring billions of euros in revenue.

OMV Petrom, is majority-controlled by Austria's OMV, and other gas producers have spent 15 years and billions of dollars preparing to tap Romania's estimated 200 billion cubic meters of gas in the Black Sea.

However, a prohibitive tax on additional gas income introduced four years ago put all but one project on hold and contributed to Exxon’s exit from the European Union state.

It remains to be seen whether the new legislation, which lowers the tax and removes export restrictions on gas, is enough to put the projects back in play.



The new law imposes a progressive tax of 15% to 70% on additional income tied to gas prices higher than 85 lei ($18.08) per MWh, with investors able to deduct costs and investment up to 40%.

It also removes export restrictions for the gas and states the tax regime will not change for the duration of the projects -- seen as a guarantee of stability for investors. Romania has a track record of non-transparent regulatory changes.

However, a last-minute amendment allows the government to enforce temporary price caps and sale restrictions to cover household and heating gas needs in emergencies, which erodes the stability provisions, analysts said.

"With this law, production can basically begin in the Black Sea," Energy Minister Virgil Popescu told lawmakers. "It brings stability, predictability, and a friendly fiscal system."

"We are ensuring Romania's energy security because the government can intervene at any moment to redirect the gas to the Romanian market in case of an energy crisis."

OMV Petrom has postponed until 2023 a final investment decision on its Neptun Deep deepwater project, where it discovered 1.5-3 trillion cubic feet of gas. Partnering with state gas producer Romgaz, first gas could come at end-2026 at the earliest.

Another player, Black Sea Oil & Gas (BSOG) controlled by private equity firm Carlyle Group, has already moved forward with plans to extract an estimated 10 billion cubic meters of gas on government reassurances the offshore tax would be cut. It will start production in June.  

(Russia - Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Krisztina Than and William Maclean)



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