Royal Dutch Shell Group .com Rotating Header Image

Posts on ‘February 5th, 2006’

Sunday Times: Oil giants can't drill fast enough

Investment in new fields is being hit by shortages of skills and equipment. By Tracey Boles and John Penman
THERE were only two of them when Colin Manson and a colleague set up shop in Aberdeen five months ago. Since then Manson’s consultancy, Xodus, has taken on more than 30 people and is recruiting four new staff each week. Now the biggest consultancy in Aberdeen, it has ambitious plans to grow to a workforce of 250 in the next three years.
Xodus, which helps oil companies to assess the economics of new fields, is one of the growing number of support-services companies helping the world’s oil producers to record profits.
Last week, Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company, posted a profit of $36 billion (£20 billion), the biggest in the history of corporate America.
On Thursday, Shell set a new record for a British company — $23 billion. The bumper figures are due to the rise in the price of oil and gas and to higher margins on refining.
The support-services sector — from contractors who carry out seismic surveys to consultants and rig providers — is making hay as the oil giants’ profits trickle down the industry. Many firms are reporting that turnover has doubled in a year.
Jeff Corray, UK senior oil and gas partner at consultant KPMG, said the service sector was now beginning to feel the benefits of the majors’ investing. He said: “Margins have been slim for years. Oil companies were reaping the benefit of the high oil price but not investing. Now service companies are reaping the rewards.”
Seismic-survey contractors are the first to benefit when the industry starts to boom, according to the oil-services firm Petrofac. Business at surveying firms such as Schlumberger and Halliburton is brisk. Seismic surveys, which cost about $2m a time, are designed to detect the kind of geological structures where oil might be found, such as rock formations whose outline resembles an upturned teacup.
Owners of offshore drilling platforms, such as Rowan, which offers the Gorilla and Tarzan rigs, are also among the first to profit during an oil-industry upturn. The most sophisticated deep-water drilling rigs cost up to $500,000 a day to hire, compared with $150,000 two years ago. With the world fleet of such rigs numbering less than 100, demand far outstrips supply.
The oil giants’ recent profits may be eyewatering, but they cannot spend the money as quickly as they would like on new developments. The sector is suffering from a lack of services, equipment and skilled workers.
Ayman Asfari, chief executive of Petrofac, whose customers include BP, Exxon, Total and BG Group, said: “Oil firms are spending as much as they are able to spend. Infrastructure is a bottleneck.”
The oil companies also have to overcome outdated attitudes to investment. They have been wary ever since the oil-price slump of the 1990s.
Manpower is another problem. Work in the industry is seen as dirty and arduous and this puts people off. Last year, only 200 petrochemical engineers graduated from American universities compared with thousands in the industry’s 1970s heyday. Britain produced 88 from three or four universities.
Some design engineers in the industry are on “superstar wages” because the demand is so high and their numbers are so low. Some have set themselves up as self-employed contractors charging more than £350 a day — and getting it. Most companies have no choice but to pay.
Stats UK, a specialist oil-engineering firm in Aberdeen which has contracts with leading companies such as Shell and Chevron Texaco, was forced to search for workers in Poland because the skills shortage in the British oil industry has become so acute.
Pawel Motyl is one of 12 Polish fitters, welders and machinists recruited by the firm. Late last year, Motyl drove more than 350 miles through the night to Warsaw to sit a complicated mechanical-aptitude test, which he passed with the highest score of any candidate. He swapped his $200-a-month job for a salary of £22,000 a year. Stats UK director Lorraine Porter is travelling to Poland again soon to look for more workers.
The oil industry stopped taking on large numbers of graduates after the sharp downturn in 1986. It is now paying the price — the average age of an American oil worker is over 50.
These days, oil companies are not spending as much as they could for several reasons, according to Richard Rose, analyst with Oriel Securities. “The companies continue to exercise capital discipline, wary of any potential reversal in oil prices,” he said. “There is also a lack of opportunity in terms of new prospects, and where there is opportunity, they are constrained by the strong demand for services and supplies.”
The dawning realisation that higher oil prices are here to stay for the long term has prompted some oil giants to stop being cautious and start loosening the purse strings, according to David Calhoun, president and chief executive of GE’s $42 billion infrastructure division, which includes its oil and gas unit. He said: “It is taking on a very different outlook with the long-term oil-price forecasts that are emerging.
“The big gains in energy prices are being reinvested. It would have been good if it had started on the first day [the oil price went up] but it is happening now that companies are realising prices are going to stay high.” GE is reporting strong demand for refinery upgrades and liquified natural gas (LNG) facilities.
Texas-based Exxon pledged last week to invest its bumper fourth-quarter profits — more than $10 billion on revenues of $100 billion — in new refineries and exploration. The move was part of a broader industry charm offensive aimed at countering the political and consumer backlash that erupted in America last year when the price of petrol rose to $3 a gallon on the forecourt.
BP, the leading British company, expects to spend $15 billion this year. About two-thirds of this will be on exploration and production, with the rest split between refining, marketing, petrochemicals and other sources of energy. With oil prices high, companies have been returning to reserves that were uneconomical to extract during the years of low prices. However, each $1 billion of new investment carries with it $1 billion of new overheads.
Oil firms are having to push into increasingly inhospitable terrain to find deposits, drilling to record depths to bolster production in older fields and exploring far-flung reaches of the globe in search of new reserves.
Exxon said that deep-water exploration, at present a fringe activity, will account for 20% of the oil it produces by 2010.
President George Bush said last week that Americans were addicted to oil. It appears that the oil industry, grown used to low levels of investment for 10 years, is addicted to its profits.
It may be constrained by the lack of services and personnel, but Oriel’s Rose warns that continued failure to invest could lead to structural problems in the industry.
“If they do not invest, where is the production growth going to come from? It will be left to Opec to fill the gap.”
Far from spending less, experts believe the oil industry should be spending more — on investment in new reserves.
Oil nuggets
Exxon Mobil’s $36 billion (£20 billion) profit announced last week was the largest ever for a listed company
The going rate for hiring a floating rig is $250,000 a day.
Two years ago it was $50,000 a day
Last year, American universities produced only 200 petrochemical engineers, compared with thousands a year during the 1970s. Britain produced 88 last year
There are fewer than 100 deep-water drilling rigs in the world
BP’s capital spending this year is expected to be $15 billion (£8.5 billion) read more and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

Sunday Telegraph: The Maverick: Owning the right domain is the name of the game

By Luke Johnson (Filed: 05/02/2006)
Almost every asset class known to man has boomed in the past few years; shares, bonds, property, commodities, art – you name it, the price has soared. Easy money and worldwide growth have fuelled extraordinary gains across the board.
So what's next for the hungry speculator? Well one particular niche is currently enjoying something of a resurgence after a period of underperformance: internet domain names.
Buying and selling internet Universal Resource Locations (urls) is a bit like trading virtual real estate. The prices of prime website addresses can be enormous. For example, the site was sold last month for a reported $12m (£6.8m) in cash and stock to an investor group called Escom LLC by Gary Kramen, the owner of dating site
Certain valuable generic domain names can generate hundreds of dollars a day in income due to the sharp growth in online advertising and pay-per-click revenue. Obvious internet names attract thousands of daily visits, and aggregators design links to giants such as Google and Yahoo who then split the advertising income. This “type-in traffic” generates as much as 10 per cent of paid internet search business, which is estimated to be worth more than $10bn this year.
Now institutional investors are getting involved. Marchex, a Nasdaq stock capitalised at $900m, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars accumulating a huge portfolio of domains. It says its model is local and vertical consumer search and the delivery of online traffic to merchants.
It projects overall operating profit margins in excess of 30 per cent. It doesn't aim to resell its names: it plans to collect the rent, like any sensible property landlord. Another player is Internet REIT, backed by various large private family offices, with plans to build a group of sites, and develop their income streams.
But the sector has its issues. The matter of how online names are registered is contentious. The internet oversight body is Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Addresses (Icann), a private-sector non-profit Californian organisation. It was granted its contract by the US Department of Commerce, thanks to Washington's pioneering role in creating the internet.
Since 2001 Icann has delegated the task of registering web names to Network Solutions, a subsidiary of VeriSign, a web “infrastructure” conglomerate. VeriSign is very much a for-profit business and will both increase the cost of registering urls and potentially repossess lapsing names. But many domain punters are opposed to the deal, which may allow VeriSign to seize profits on expiring domains – currently prime territory for domain speculators.
The Coalition for Icann Transparency is attempting to block the arrangement. It is backed a by Canadian internet millionaire Rob Hall and is working with the World Association of Domain Name Developers, which accuses VeriSign and Icann of antitrust crimes and illegal price fixing. The entire community of domain dealers is worried that their livelihoods are threatened; they have even managed to persuade the EU to investigate Icann's behaviour. Poor Icann is caught between a rock and a hard place – menaced with litigation by both VeriSign and CFIT.
Meanwhile, there are rafts of websites where you can get advice about trading domains and so avoid some of the pitfalls. After all, most names registered to date are valueless, so vigilance is essential. You can also attend TRAFFIC conferences to acquire an education. These are jamborees of domain speculators, aggregators, online ad players and search engines. The frenzy is almost reminiscent of the dotcom bubble.
As with any form of trading, basic rules apply: do your homework, caveat emptor and only risk what you can afford to lose.
The irony is that the internet was meant to be a free medium. Visionaries such as Tim Berners-Lee conceived the World Wide Web as a non-profit system of information exchange. But the profit motive is irrepressible: the über-capitalists of Silicon Valley infiltrated this new world. Up sprouted the domainers, eBay, Google, amazon, VeriSign, the venture capitalists and the rest, all looking to make a turn.
And between them they are undermining the old business models of shopping, trading, dating, advertising, recruiting, researching, entertaining and so forth. Media and retail industries are suffering convulsions and this may affect property values.
So perhaps a modest play on intellectual property on the web – a clutch of domain names – makes sense. But take care!
• Luke Johnson is chairman of Channel 4 and Risk Capital Partners
The owner of this website, Alfred Donovan also owns the dotcom domain name of Royal Dutch Shell Plc – the unified company worth £223 billion USD. Shell has already tried unsuccessfully to seize it. As Shell is aware, the name is not for sale (this item inserted by read more and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

Sunday Telegraph: Oil: a black hole for cash

These are amazing times for the oil industry – or so the headlines would suggest. Last week, Royal Dutch Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, reported record profits for a UK-listed company of £13bn. This week BP is expected to continue that trend by announcing profits of about £12bn.
Even those astronomical figures do not tell the full story. According to analysts at Goldman Sachs, Shell and BP will each have generated between $35bn and $37bn of operating cashflow.
But unfortunately for today's oil majors, as Shell's results highlighted last week, even walls of cash no longer guarantee increasing production.
For while Shell's profits were a record, it is actually producing less oil than it did last year. The company's reserve replacement ratio – the rate at which it finds reserves to replace those it has depleted – was also down, to between 60 and 70 per cent.
The pressure to invest has never been greater. The International Energy Agency, for instance, estimates that meeting global energy needs will require the investment of $17,000bn (£9,600bn) – in 2004 money – by 2030. Both Shell and BP have increased their capital expenditure in recent years – especially the former, which has pledged to spend $19bn on new developments this year.
But, as Jeroen van der Veer, Shell's chief executive, will point out at a conference in Houston this week, the challenges for the industry keep getting tougher: projects are getting bigger and more difficult to undertake; the service sector is at full capacity (the industry is suffering a chronic shortage of experienced people and don't even think about trying to hire a drilling rig at the moment); and meddling governments are always eager to cream off a slice of the profits.
“Given the urgent investment needs, exacting 'windfall' taxes is perverse, particularly in an industry with a history of volatile prices,” van der Veer will say. “In an increasingly uncertain world, long-term investors need predictable terms.”
In other words, you get less bang for your buck these days. Oil bosses have a difficult line to walk between sharing these extraordinary riches with their shareholders and investing to protect the future of their companies. read more and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

The Observer: The Russians buy up our Centrica? What a gas …

Frank Kane
Sunday February 5, 2006
What an awful stench there was last week of sheer xenophobic hypocrisy at the suggestion that Russian oil giant Gazprom might be interested in buying Britain's gas business Centrica. 'Robust scrutiny' was the DTI response, which is Whitehallese for 'not on your nelly', and the Russians appeared to scuttle back into their permafrost, muttering about 'misinterpretations and misunderstandings'.
There is no doubt, however, that Gazprom would like to buy the British gas business. (The Takeover Panel will soon make them say, one way or the other). The hints and nudges have been coming out of Moscow loud and clear for the past few weeks, as if the Russians were preparing the market for a bid. They have the gas in abundance; we have the customers and the infrastructure to deliver it. In the era of globalisation, putting the two together makes obvious economic and industrial sense.
And, if the Russians had made their intentions obvious before their little fall-out with Ukraine over gas prices, they would have had a good chance of getting the issues debated fair and square. But the photos of Kiev citizens shivering in Europe's worst winter for decades as Moscow turned off the taps has surely done for Gazprom's ambitions.
But how will the British government explain that to President Putin? You can forgive the Russians their surprise at being cold-shouldered, because all the signs were that Britain was an accommodating business partner. After all, the London Stock Exchange has been lifting its skirts to any Russian with a chequered past that wanted to raise some capital.
And the likes of Shell and BP have not been put off by the maverick nature of Russian business – indeed, they have spent billions trying to get their hands on the country's oil resources.
But now the Russians are being told: 'Sorry, it cannot work the other way round. We don't trust you with our gas industry.' Utter hypocrisy.
If Putin really wants to expose British double-think he should instruct Gazprom to take on some top-notch investment bankers and mount a serious cash offer for Centrica. Shareholders would bite their hands off at the right price, and then we could enjoy the sight of the British government squirming to find a reason to block the bid.
That would also leave Centrica nicely in play, with private equity groups best placed to buy it. They would have no qualms about selling it on to the Russians in a few years' time, when we've all forgotten about the Ukraine. read more and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

The Observer: Timeline: a history of free speech (posted for Dr John Huong)

David Smith and Luc Torres
Sunday February 5, 2006
399BC Socrates speaks to jury at his trial: 'If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind… I should say to you, “Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”'
1215 Magna Carta, wrung from the unwilling King John by his rebellious barons, is signed. It will later be regarded as the cornerstone of liberty in England.
1516 The Education of a Christian Prince by Erasmus. 'In a free state, tongues too should be free.'
1633 Galileo Galilei hauled before the Inquisition after claiming the sun does not revolve around the earth.
1644 'Areopagitica', a pamphlet by the poet John Milton, argues against restrictions of freedom of the press. 'He who destroys a good book, kills reason itself.'
1689 Bill of Rights grants 'freedom of speech in Parliament' after James II is overthrown and William and Mary installed as co-rulers.
1770 Voltaire writes in a letter: 'Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.'
1789 'The Declaration of the Rights of Man', a fundamental document of the French Revolution, provides for freedom of speech .
1791 The First Amend-ment of the US Bill of Rights guarantees four freedoms: of religion, speech, the press and the right to assemble.
1859 'On Liberty', an essay by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, argues for toleration and individuality. 'If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.'
1859 On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, expounds the theory of natural selection. TH Huxley publicly defends Darwin against religious fundamentalists.
1929 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, of the US Supreme Court, outlines his belief in free speech: 'The principle of free thought is not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.'
1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted virtually unanimously by the UN General Assembly. It urges member nations to promote human, civil, economic and social rights, including freedom of expression and religion.
1958 Two Concepts of Liberty, by Isaiah Berlin, identifies negative liberty as an absence or lack of impediments, obstacles or coercion, as distinct from positive liberty (self-mastery and the presence of conditions for freedom).
1960 After a trial at Old Bailey, Penguin wins the right to publish D H Lawrence's sexually explicit novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover.
1962 One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes life in a labour camp during Stalin's era. Solzhenitsyn is exiled in 1974.
1989 Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issues a fatwa against Salman Rushdie over the 'blasphemous' content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. The fatwa is lifted in 1998.
1992 In Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky points out: 'Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favour of free speech, then you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.'
2001 In the wake of 9/11, the Patriot Act gives the US government new powers to investigate individuals suspected of being a threat, raising fears for civil liberties.
2002 Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel incenses Muslims by writing about the Prophet Mohammed and Miss World, provoking riots which leave more than 200 dead.
2004 Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh is killed after release of his movie about violence against women in Islamic societies.
2004 Multinational oil giant Royal Dutch Shell obtains an Injunction and Restraining Order against Dr John Huong for exercising his right to freedom of expression by telling the unpalatable truth about his former employer of 29 years (this item inserted by
2005 The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act bans protest without permit within 1km of the British Parliament. read more and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

The New York Times: The Broadwater Battle

Published: February 5, 2006
Now that the federal government has received an energy company's formal application to anchor a huge natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound, the Battle of Broadwater can be fully engaged.
On this side is an array of deeply suspicious local residents, lawmakers and environmental groups infuriated at the thought of turning a fragile estuary into a combustible filling station. On that side are the TransCanada Corporation and Royal Dutch Shell, deep-pocketed multinational corporations that have teamed up in the Broadwater project to better exploit the global market in liquefied natural gas.
In the middle are regulatory agencies facing intense pressure to do the right thing. It will not be pretty, but there are few debates more urgent on Long Island, and in the wider region, than this.
Many circumstances have brought us to this combative place. The main one is the nation's lack of a full-bore commitment to wean itself from fossil fuels and to develop clean, renewable energy. This was underscored yet again last week in one of the lamer portions of President Bush's State of the Union address, in which he failed — again — to map a convincing exit strategy from the country's dismal entanglement with foreign energy sources.
That's the global issue. The local one is whether expanding the region's supply of liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., through efforts like Broadwater can be a reasonable step toward a saner future.
Arguments against Broadwater are easy to summon. It will be huge, as big as the Queen Mary 2, serviced by tankers traveling in wide security buffer zones that would disrupt use of large sections of the Sound two or three times a week. All that explosive gas might tempt terrorists. Though natural gas may be cleaner than oil or coal, it still isn't clean, and using it only perpetuates the fossil-fuel habit.
Broadwater has now entered the regulatory thickets, with its application under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Coast Guard and other agencies. (Documents are available at or Broadwater's many opponents, including the elected officials who jumped early and eagerly onto the anti-Broadwater bandwagon, now have the opportunity and obligation to use this data to spell out what the better alternatives are. They should develop ready answers to questions like these:
¶Can gas from existing pipelines and pipelines yet unbuilt really tide the region over (as the environmentalists hope they will ) until wind farms and other alternative fuels and clean technologies come to the rescue?
¶If global warming is an issue of utmost urgency, with half the energy for power plants in the United States supplied by coal, the dirtiest fuel around, then why shouldn't there be efforts to promote relatively cleaner fuels like L.N.G.? Long Island, after all, has some of the nastiest power plants in the Northeast, including an oil-fueled monstrosity spewing tons of sulfur dioxide and carbon above the pretty village of Northport.
¶If Broadwater is so unsightly and terrifying, how is it that other parts of the country, notably the Boston area, have lived with L.N.G. for years? And as hulking as Broadwater promises to be, isn't its footprint — four mooring pillars embedded in the Sound bottom nine miles offshore, as well as a pipeline spur and the floating platform — a lot tinier and more easily removed than, say, the fixed platforms of the offshore wind farm proposed off Jones Beach, which many environmental groups support? It is certainly less hideous than the 53-acre artificial L.N.G. island that a company with no connection to Broadwater is proposing to build in the Atlantic between New York and New Jersey, isn't it?
Broadwater has a long way to go to prove that its untried L.N.G. behemoth is suitable for Long Island Sound. But a healthy skepticism cuts both ways, and we look forward to hearing the best arguments of those who would lead us down another path. read more and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

Scotland on Sunday: Corporate giants to unveil profits tally near £30bn

SOME of Britain's biggest corporate names will unveil a combined profits tally of close to £30bn this week, as the FTSE results season kicks off in earnest – potentially giving a further boost to the markets.
Oil giant BP, pharmaceuticals mammoth GlaxoSmithKline, consumer goods group Unilever, chemicals giant ICI and engineering heavyweight Rolls-Royce are all expected to reveal sharp jumps in profits.
ScottishPower, Medical devices firm Smith & Nephew, and oil exploration firm BG Group are also expected to chart big profits.
The figures come hot on the heels of the record British profit of £13bn recorded by Royal Dutch Shell last week, and ahead of more bumper profits from the high street banks.
Some analysts believe the soaring profits will give a further boost to the FTSE, which has raced ahead so far in 2006, and shrugged off concerns from Wall Street on Friday to close 12 points higher at 5,759.3.
HSBC's UK equity strategist, Robert Parkes, said: “Corporate earnings are still going to be very supportive for the market. We think profits across the board will come in at least level with expectations. Generally speaking, earnings are strong and valuations still relatively low.”
He added: “The global economy is very strong, and that's more important to our bigger companies than what happens at home. Sterling has also been good for UK earnings this year, after being weaker against the dollar.”
BP is expected to report record profits of £12.2bn – boosted by the record crude prices over the course of the year.
Although the figures would be 30% higher than its previous record of £9.1bn, achieved in 2004, it will still fall short of rival Shell's bumper profits tally.
In a trading statement last month, BP warned investors that the devastating season of hurricanes in the US had cost it more than £570m in 2005.
Production was cut at its rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and at onshore refineries such as Texas City, which was also the scene of a fatal fire in March.
GlaxoSmithKline's pre-tax profits are expected to have risen to more than £6.6bn, from £5.8bn last year. Turnover is expected to be around 7% higher.
Despite the huge profits, the City will be pressing the firm for details on its asthma drug, Advair – its second-biggest product.
More than £4bn was wiped off the value of Glaxo in one day in November after authorities in the United States proposed changes to the way the drug was labelled.
Unilever, whose products range from Dove soap to Hellmann's mayonnaise, is expected to show the fruits of its long-running turnaround, with profits jumping roughly 35% to £3.4bn.
Further details are also expected to emerge of a corporate review related to its Anglo-Dutch board structure.
Rolls-Royce – one of the market's best performing stocks in 2005 – is predicted to reveal that profits have leapt almost six-fold, climbing from £110m to £640m.
Although the company is believed to have lost out on a contract to provide engines for the new F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, it is thought to have landed another major deal with Pratt & Whitney. read more and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.