​This article was originally published in Issue 5.2 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. To see the original article, please follow this link.

The first upscale exploration of oil and gas in Montenegro started in 1914, when King Nikola Petrović approved the National Assembly's decision for oil exploration around Lake Skadar. The first well in the area of Crmnica dates back to 1922 – although it produced nothing of significance.

In later researches of the Montenegrin offshore, the existence of geological structures with the potential for hiding hydrocarbon deposits was confirmed. During the 70s and 80s, several American firms set up wells in the Montenegrin undersea area and confirmed oil and gas findings. However, no significant work was done pursuant to this confirmation, mainly due to the political and social instability of this Balkan country.

In the years that followed, and especially following the dissolution of the state union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, oil and gas exploration and exploitation formed the center of the Government's energy policy, and Montenegro made a significant effort to develop the industry. The country has defined its energy policy until 2030, adopted the Energy Development Strategy until 2025, and signed the Declaration of Accession to the Energy Charter in late 2012. The main objective of the adopted energy policy is the creation of an adequate legislative, financial, and regulatory framework to encourage private sector involvement and investments. Research shows that the total oil core potential in two separate submarine zones in Montenegro amounts to 12.5 x 109 tons. According to existing data, potential oil reserves amount to approximately 7 billion barrels, while potential natural gas reserves amount to 425 billion square meters.

Montenegro aims to follow the achievements of other countries in the Adriatic Sea that have valorized their potential in this field with around 1,500 exploration wells. Italy is the clear champion, with around 1,400 drilling sites. Neighboring Croatia drilled around 140 exploration wells and currently has 18 gas production platforms in the northern Adriatic.

As a sign of progress and the decisiveness of Montenegro to use its existing potential, the first tender for oil and gas exploration and production was announced in late 2013. So far, the Montenegrin Government has signed concession agreements with two consortia: the Italian-Russian Eni/Novatek (which was granted concession rights over four offshore blocks, covering 1,228 square kilometers), and the Greek company Energean oil & gas (which was granted two offshore blocks with a surface area of 338 square kilometers in shallow waters).

In the light of normative regulation, Montenegro adopted the Law on Exploration and Production of Hydrocarbons, the Tax Law on Hydrocarbons, and regulations governing the method of calculating compensation payments for oil and gas production, construction of exploration and exploitation plants, development and production of hydrocarbons, drilling, and so on. Additionally, the Government has adopted the model of the Concession Contract for the Production of Hydrocarbons, which is divided into two phases: the Exploration phase and the Hydrocarbons production phase.

The exploration phase may last for a maximum of six years for onshore or seven years for offshore blocks. Upon the concessionaire's request, and only in cases specified by law, the exploration phase may be extended for up to two years. However, the hydrocarbons production phase begins from the day of the commencement of the first extraction of hydrocarbons from the reservoir and lasts until the expiry of the deadline envisaged by the production concession contract, or a maximum of up to 20 years. The production phase may, at a request from the concessionaire, be extended at most for half of the duration of the production phase period specified by the production concession contract; i.e., for a maximum of 10 years.

With the Tax Law on Hydrocarbons, Montenegro made a plan to acquire revenue from companies doing business in the industry involving taxes and reimbursements for produced oil and gas. The strategy for acquiring revenue is progressive – meaning that the companies that have the most profit will pay an increased (progressive) rate for the produced oil and gas. In the period during the production of oil and gas, oil companies are due to pay a tax of 54% on the profit acquired from the exploration and production of oil and related assets, as well as 9% on dividends (i.e., capital gains).

The next tender for the exploration of oil and gas in the Montenegrin undersea area should open during this year or in 2019, since the Montenegrin Government is striving to introduce as many concessionaires as possible to the Montenegrin off-shore territory.