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Shell’s Karoo-born man steers clear of shale gas rumpus

Sunday Times

May 29, 2011 3:08 AM | By ANTON FERREIRA

One of Colesberg’s most successful sons, who went from a sheep farm childhood to becoming vice president of a leading multinational, is trying to keep a low profile in the controversy over plans to look for shale gas in the Karoo.

That’s because the company De la Rey Venter works for in the Netherlands is Royal Dutch Shell, one of the companies that want to “frack” his former backyard.

Venter, a former head boy at Colesberg High School, has had a meteoric career since obtaining a BCom at the University of Johannesburg in 1997. He worked for Samancor, then BHP Billiton. In 2002 he joined Shell.

On a website advertising the school at which he obtained his MBA, Venter said he had chosen his career at Shell because he was “fascinated by the intrigues of geo-politics and by the global energy and environmental debates”.

Now he is the company’s global head of liquefied natural gas with responsibilities that include negotiating supply contracts around the world.

He is putting deals together to ship liquefied natural gas to Japan, which has increased its gas consumption after the earthquake disaster at Fukushima nuclear power station.

But Venter’s involvement with gas appears to have confused some residents of Colesberg, who thought he might be the man to speak to about Shell’s unpopular plan to explore for shale gas.

Clem Olivier, head of the local farmers’ union, said members held a meeting earlier this year where the proposal was made that Venter, whose family have farmed in the area for several generations, should be asked to address a meeting of the union about the fracking plans which many farmers fear will destroy their groundwater supply.

“The thought we had was that De la Rey Venter Jnr would come to give us feedback at a meeting,” Olivier said this week.

“But later it became apparent that this guy is in Holland, so we didn’t take the decision. It would be stupid to get someone from Holland to come out to tell us what Shell’s thoughts are.”

A local newspaper carried a misleading report about the farmers’ union meeting which, a Shell source said, caused unjustified hostility towards the Venter family.

Venter himself declined to answer e-mailed questions about fracking.

A Shell spokesman in Johannesburg said: “He does not want to talk on behalf of Shell, or as a Karoo-born stakeholder on the gas exploration project.”

Venter’s father, De la Rey Venter Snr, said from his retirement home in Jeffreys Bay that the fracking controversy had nothing to do with the family.

“It’s not part of (my son’s) responsibilities. He’s head of Shell’s gas marketing all over the globe, and it’s got nothing to do with fracking. So it can’t affect my family, or him.”

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