Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image Exxon Gets Its Days in Court

By David Lee Smith February 26, 2008

Most investors know that ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) is the world’s highest-valued company by market cap. But few likely appreciate the three-ring circus of litigation, legislation, and negotiation the company must currently endure.

For starters, Exxon’s embroiled in negotiations and other legal maneuvering relating to its pullout from Venezuela. Exxon left after the Chavez regime put the screws to the oil company and several competitors operating in the region, including Chevron (NYSE: CVX), Total (NYSE: TOT), and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP). Exxon is pursuing international arbitration, and it recently acquired court orders freezing as much as $12 billion in assets of PDVSA, Venezuela’s national oil company.

It now appears that PDVSA has offered to swap its half-interest in a Chalmette, La., refinery for a settlement of the dispute. The other interest in the 183,000-barrel-per-day facility is owned by none other than Exxon.

At the same time, a judge in the U.K. will begin hearings later this week on a PDVSA motion that the asset freeze be removed. The Venezuelan company contends that the UK courts lacked the authority to issue such a ruling in the first place. The judge in this case could rule as early as next week.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will finally hear arguments involving the oil spill that occurred almost 19 years ago, when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. At stake is a $2.5 billion judgment against the company relating to the environmental mishap.

Finally, Exxon, Conoco, and BP (NYSE: BP), among others, are contesting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. After leading a successful effort to increase oil production taxes, Palin is attempting to push through a state-backed natural gas pipeline project. The pipeline would be constructed without the backing or support of the oil companies.

What do these events have to do with investments? Lots. They indicate yet again that, along with their increasing technological challenges, oil and gas operations require progressively larger amounts of legal and political dexterity. For my money, Exxon’s well-positioned to compete effectively on both fronts. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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