December 5, 2008
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Home / Issue Archive / 2008 / April #4 / Editor's Letter

№ 4 (April 2008)

Editor's Letter

I Just Can’t  Bear it!  Spring is here

Send Your Pics to OGE’s 1st Siberian Bear  Photo Contest

_editor_17_PAT_400x550px.jpgPat Davis Szymczak

Les Tomlin of Trican Well Services Ltd. in Calgary sent OGE these bear pictures which were taken at a BP tank farm in Alaska. “From the size of the man ladder, these must have been some cubs that were small enough to fit,” Tomlin told OGE. Animal lover that I am (my two ginger tabby cats live up the proverb – dogs have owners, cats have servants) I asked, “So how do they get down?”
“They’re bears! They find a way,” Les replied. The bears we feature in this column are Alaskan bears, but I think OGE readers have seen their own cute little cubbies right here in Russia. There’s a t-shirt sold by souvenir vendors on Moscow’s Old Arbat emblazoned with the statement: “I’ve been to Moscow.

There are no bears.” OK, so they don’t walk the streets of Moscow, contrary to legend, but bears do inhabit Russia’s oil bearing (no pun intended) regions.
OGE wants your pictures – pictures of bears at work (or play) in the Russian oilfield. We’ll publish the best on www.oilandgaseurasia.com and in upcoming issues of OGE along with any comments the photographer might send us. Submissions chosen for placement on our website will receive a free one-year subscription to the digital version of Oil&Gas Eurasia. So get those entries in now!

Speaking of Les (who started all this by sending these photos as part of his daily e-mail joke list) I’d like to thank him for giving OGE permission to print the global Coiled Tubing Rig Count he prepares as Director of Canada’s ICoTA (International Coiled Tubing Association, www.icota-canada.com). While service companies in Russia have trouble collecting accurate data on drilling rigs generally, on the CT side of things, Les is the man who knows all. To comment on the data we report here, write me at [email protected] and I’ll pass on the information to Les.

OK, that’s enough serious talk. It’s spring and I’m counting the days until I get on my Singapore Airlines Moscow-Houston direct flight to attend OTC 2008. Let’s have a bit more fun, even though there is no Papa Deux’s in Moscow. (Russian translation: my favorite Cajun restaurant in Houston.)

Regular readers of OGE know that I like to spin yarns about cultural misunderstandings. Lately though, I wonder if the world hasn’t just gone mad. Les (bless his gloating Canadian heart) sends me a clipping from a New York newspaper headlined “Bangladesh bank offers loans to U.S. poor.” I thought it was a joke. It wasn’t. Apparently, Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, which pioneered microfinance, lending to poor women in Bangladesh to fund entrepreneurial enterprises, is now targeting New York, thanks to the sub-prime crisis.

Around that time, I happened to be talking by telephone to a marketing consultant in Houston who tells me: “U.S. companies are really going negative here on Russia. There’s too much in the local media about a return to the Cold War.” I hate hearing that! OGE is in the business of helping companies build their brands in the Russian oil patch. Then guess what? A few days later I get a FedEx package with a book inside and a request that I write a book review in OGE. The title? … drum roll … “The Soviets, Putin, and Back” written by two professors in the U.S. Their point? The Soviet Union is back!

I live in Moscow. What Soviet Union? OK, maybe I don’t understand. I’m a foreigner. Russians always tell me I don’t understand what they can’t explain – because I’m a foreigner. So I asked around some Russian friends aged 50 or so. They lived in the USSR, and in Yeltsin’s Russia and now in Putin’s Russia. Though we agreed that to utter the words “Russian” and “Democracy” in sequence might evoke a giggle or two, come on guys! This just “ain’t” the Soviet Union I visited in 1973 as a student or even in 1991 when I visited a second time as a journalist.

There is private property, maybe not so well distributed in some sectors but lots of owners do exist. Moscow has night clubs and casinos (never saw them in 1973) loaded with 50 year old American and European guys stalking 20 year old Russian girls (or is it the other way around?) – and the more sensible Russian girls are sticking to Russian guys who actually have far more money than the foreigners. And speaking of Russians,  they didn’t travel in Soviet times – unless escorted by a KGB minder. If today’s Kremlin closed the borders, the economy would collapse. I’ll share a secret: Russia’s economy is not fueled by oil and gas; it’s built on hundreds of thousands (or so it seems) of tourist agencies and websites offering $350 “hot tickets” to Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh or Antalia. I can’t tell you how often, OGE’s star sales manager (no such profession in Soviet times), Marina Alyioshina, has greeted me with the news that she’s found a $299 (7,325 rubles and 52 kopeks) deal including four nights lodging, leaving Sheremetyevo Airport in 24 hours, and I’ll see her in a week. (I do find this annoying, if you’ve ever been telemarketed by Marina, you understand that I can’t say, “no.”)

Now for the knockout punch! This morning I attended a meeting of a business organization whose name I’d rather not utter. The guest speaker represented a U.S. company offering health care packages globally to the super-rich. Forget whatever Hillary, Barrack or John McCain might have suggest to make health care affordable for average Americans, if you’ve got enough money, you can buy access to the most prestigious U.S. research hospitals, and consultations with the best and the brightest doctors on the planet. You can even fly in a noble laureate to speak at your next yacht party (I’m talking big yachts, the size that the Soviets might have called “battle ships”.) It’s marketed (never heard that word in Soviet times) like a health club membership which includes genetic testing so you will know 30 years in advance what will kill you.

My point? This U.S. company is in Russia (as well as Brazil, China and India) because out of those four “hottest growth on earth” countries, the growth rate of persons falling into the demographic category of super-rich is the highest in Russia. As I heard it this morning, the number of Russians with spendable assets (yes, I said spendable) exceeding $1 million a year is around 100,000 and is growing by a factor of 15 percent.  There are three times that many Chinese in this category but their numbers are growing by only 7 percent. Yeah gads, I’ve heard of “secret supermarkets” available only to the Communist Party Elite in Soviet times. But I don’t think that quite compares.
Ok, so I’ve gone on long enough. Guess it’s time to read and review that book. Or have I done so already? See you at OTC!

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