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Alaska failure not behind exit – Shell’s outgoing U.S. chief

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Royal Dutch Shell’s (RDSa.L) costly flameout in Alaska last year was “a huge disappointment,” but did not push top North American executive Marvin Odum to exit the company, he said.

Odum made the comments hours after the company announced he would leave next month after 34 years.

“This should not be interpreted as, ‘Alaska didn’t work, so Marvin’s leaving,” Odum, 57, said in an interview.

Instead, he said he decided it was time to move on after heading Shell Oil Co, the Anglo-Dutch company’s U.S arm, since 2008. He later became head of exploration and production operations in the Americas as well.

He declined to specify any future plans, but indicated he would consider other ventures after a pause.

Shell walked away from its aspiration to drill for oil off Alaska’s northern coast, after spending $7 billion (£5 billion) over seven years, when a well showed too little oil and gas to justify continuing.

Odum said the company had been shedding ventures considered too costly or too marginal to focus on deepwater and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The company is not finished. Shell intends to sell around $30 billion in assets between 2016 and 2018 to improve its balance sheet and focus on those core businesses after its $52 billion acquisition of British giant BG Group was completed this month.

Shell already has sold some shale oil and gas acreage and operations, leaving an impression that the company was abandoning shale. Odum said Shell jettisoned marginal operations, but kept others in more attractive areas in Texas, Ohio the U.S. Northeast, Canada and Argentina. Shell can ramp up production in those fields when oil prices recover, he said.

During his tenure overseeing the Americas for Shell, Odum oversaw the startup of two new oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and the decision to move ahead with a third Gulf operation involving a floating production, storage and offloading tanker that will start up later this year.

The BG deal will make Shell the largest foreign investor in Brazil’s coveted deepwater oilfields, and has the proven expertise to exploit it, Odum said.

A mechanical engineer by training, Odum said his first job interview upon graduating from the University of Texas was with Shell. He got a job offer, took it, and thought he’d stay for a couple of years until he decided what he’d rather do.

“And here I am – 34 years later,” he said.

(Reporting By Kristen Hays; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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