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In defence of Shell CEO Ben van Beurden

By a regular contributor

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Only one member of the EC is directly involved in North American activities, Marvin Odum. 

Perhaps worth noting is that investment decisions on the scale of the recent Shell write-offs would have required approval by the entire EC in the Hague long before BvB was around. Few of the EC members who made those decisions are still present. 

It seems strange that so many of the huge projects which have been abandoned are in North America, and serious questions need to be asked about why approval was given by the EC for these huge projects. Only one member of the EC is directly involved in North American activities, Marvin Odum. 

Many of those projects that have not been abandoned have only survived because the capital has already been spent, and the marginal costs of production may still be lower than the current value of the oil produced. Let’s not forget that many of the projects were approved before the price of oil went to $100/barrel. As recently as 2009, oil was at $35/barrel, well below the lowest price to which it has fallen in 2015. It should also be remembered that funding of the North American projects would have required the de-funding or abandonment of investment opportunities in other parts of the world. These “opportunity costs” are not included in the calculations. 

The write-offs suggest that there was either a complete lack of capital controls or investment screening in North America, or that the information on which the investment decisions were based was flawed or misleading. Perhaps at Shell Oil in the US, E&P really does mean nothing more than Excel and Powerpoint? 

It’s interesting to note that although the costs to BP of Macondo are now estimated at over $40bn, the costs of Shell’s disastrous forays into Alaska, tar sands, and unconventional oil and gas may in reality be higher. 

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.45.06BvB is now trying to clean up the mess that he inherited from Watts, vd Veer, and Voser: this train wreck was foreseeable long before BvB took up his current position, and BvB would have known what he was taking on when he succeeded Voser. BvB deserves credit for opening the can of worms: most of the real villains of this piece are now happily retired. The only question is whether investors have been misled, and whether the true state of these disastrous projects should have been announced earlier.

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