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Gulf-Times (Qatar): Caracas ouster is latest blow for world Big Oil

Published: Sunday, 1 July, 2007, 02:32 AM Doha Time
NEW YORK: The ouster of ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips from Venezuela this week highlights problems energy majors confront in finding and developing new oil projects globally amid instability and increasing resource nationalism.

Facing militants’ guns in Nigeria and the tightening Kremlin control of Russia’s vast supplies, international oil companies are having greater difficulty maintaining output while state-owned firms take greater control of some of the world’s most sought-after acreage.

The trend may force oil majors to focus on easier plays, including Canada’s tar sands, prospects in the offshore Gulf of Mexico, and countries eagerly seeking foreign investment like Colombia, experts said.

Top companies replaced only 91% of oil and gas production in 2006, 10% below the 10-year average, according to Bear Stearns, while production costs rose 18% from 2005 in part due to higher government taxation.

“In an environment of high oil prices, national governments feel emboldened to see that the money goes to them and not some joint venture,” said Sarah Emerson, director of Energy Security Analysis.

After rejecting new partnership terms offered under Venezuela’s nationalization of multi-billion-dollar heavy oil projects in the Orinoco region, ConocoPhillips announced a $4.5bn impairment for the second quarter.

The US major, along with ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Murphy Oil, saw production costs rise by 25% last year alone, according to the Bear Stearns report.

Many companies operating in Nigeria have seen output disrupted by militant attacks, which have cut up to a quarter of the Opec nation’s output at times this year.

The sting of the Venezuela takeover comes as smaller producers such as Bolivia and Ecuador clamp down on deals with foreign partners. In Russia, majors such as BP and Shell have been forced to cede control of projects by Moscow’s nationalisation drive.

While international energy companies frequently operate in some of the most world’s most violent and unstable areas where oil is found, analysts say the re-emergence of resource nationalism may push some to more welcoming shores.

“Overall it is indicative of the more difficult environment for the western oil companies. They have found the door closed or closing but that doesn’t mean that every country is moving in that direction,” said Lysle Brinker of John S. Herold.

Countries eager for investment such as Colombia, where output is in decline, may draw more cash as larger oil producers limit opportunities, analysts said.

In addition, nontraditional energy sources such as renewable fuels and the Canadian oil sands – similar to Venezuela’s Orinoco region – are likely to lure more attention from energy companies.

“There are vast resources in North America. It will refocus attention on Canada and the Gulf of Mexico,” said Jim Byrne of BMO Capital Markets.

Despite the shake-up, many energy companies have posted record profits in recent years due to a tripling in oil prices since 2002. – Reuters and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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