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Posts on ‘May 9th, 2006’

UPI: Halliburton lands four key Shell deals

Halliburton lands four key Shell deals

HOUSTON, May 9 (UPI) — Houston's Halliburton Corp. won four contracts worth about $100 million with units of Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

The deals with European units of Shell Exploration and Production companies in Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Ireland include the supply of “completion products” and associated services for five years with the potential for five single-year extensions, Halliburton said Tuesday.

Completion products refers to materials used to prepare a finished oil or gas well for commercial production. read more

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IrelandOn-Line: Shell misses target for cutting oil spills

Shell misses target for cutting oil spills09/05/2006 – 15:53:15

Royal Dutch Shell today blamed attacks by militants on pipelines in Nigeria and hurricanes in the United States for missing its goal of reducing oil spills in 2005.

Around 340 tonnes of oil flooded land in Nigeria during December after a key pipeline was blown up by rebels – an event that marked a series of attacks on assets owned by Shell in the country.

Shell added that spillages totalling 3,900 tonnes of oil took place in the United States last summer because of damage caused by two major hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. read more

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Reuters: Shell says oil spills up 50 pct in 2005

Shell says oil spills up 50 pct in 2005

Tue May 9, 2006 4:16 PM BST

LONDON (Reuters) – Royal Dutch Shell Plc said on Tuesday oil spills at its facilities rose 50 percent in 2005 due to hurricane damage in the Gulf of Mexico and sabotage in Nigeria.

Shell missed its target to reduce spills, with discharges rising to 9,000 tonnes from 6,100 tonnes in 2004, the Anglo-Dutch company said in its annual Sustainability Report.

Shell lost 3,900 tonnes due to hurricane damage, while the bombing of a major pipeline in Nigeria by ethnic militants in December led to a 340 tonne spill, which reversed a downward trend in that country. read more

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

Petroleum News: Soaring energy prices fuel takeovers

Soaring energy prices fuel takeovers

Nationalization of Bolivian natural gas is part of a broader global wave souring investment climate for international companies

Brad Foss

Associated Press Business Writer

First Russia. Then Venezuela. Now Bolivia.

Soaring energy prices are fueling a global wave of natural-resource nationalization that is souring the investment landscape for international oil companies and reshaping energy politics for years to come.

While it is anyone’s guess as to which energy-rich developing nation will be next to assert greater state control over its oil or natural gas assets, analysts say it is only a matter of time before the actions of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales inspire a copycat. read more

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

The Mayo News Online (Ireland): Council backs Rossport safety stance

Council backs Rossport safety stance

Stephen O’Grady

MEMBERS of Mayo County Council have reiterated their support for the Rossport Five, while simultaneously stressing the need to avail of the opportunities that the Corrib gas field offers.

Welcoming the publication of the Advantica report on the safety of the proposed gas pipeline at Monday’s monthly meeting, An Cathaoirleach Henry Kenny said that he hopes the report will represent ‘a stepping stone for communication and exchange of ideas’. “If the situation is not solved it will be a very black mark on our interests in inviting investors into the county.”

Fine Gael’s Paddy McGuinness highlighted how Cllr Kenny had stood his ground on behalf of the Council during his dealings on the issue. “I welcome the response of Shell,” he added. “It must be recognised that they have apologised and held out the olive branch.”

Cllr McGuinness also welcomed the response of the Rossport Five to the publication, particularly in the form of Micheal Ó Seighin. “You might even say they have secured a victory, but their fears about health and safety are sincerely held. This party won’t be part of any stampede to discredit their sincerely held views.”

Cllr McGuinness urged Mayo County Council to continue to contribute to an atmosphere of respect, trust and goodwill.

Fianna Fáil’s Pat McHugh commented that the Advantica report on the safety of the €900m project should be taken in context with ‘the times we are living in’. “By this I mean the increasing cost of energy and dwindling supply. That equation must concentrate our minds. The issue must be resolved in the interests of all. The common good demands that it be resolved, we can’t continue to rely on imported energy. It is untenable.”

Emphasising the importance of not exacerbating the situation, Cllr McHugh also highlighted the number of personnel that Shell now have on the ground ‘who are sensitive to the situation, and who have an empathy with the local community’.

Fianna Fáil election candidate, Cllr Frank Chambers, described the gas as “a natural and national resource important to the welfare of the State, with opportunities for Irish people into the future.”

However, he stressed that people’s health and safety should come first, but also urged the Government to avail of the current opportunity to deliver investment into the county and into north Mayo in particular.

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

Petroleum News: Mackenzie in crunch

Mackenzie in crunch

Imperial not ready to speculate on reviving over-the-top option for Arctic gas

Gary Park

For Petroleum News

Cost pressures have not yet reached breaking point with the Mackenzie Gas Project, but could make the venture uneconomic, or force a rethinking of design and construction, Imperial Oil officials said.

Company chairman Tim Hearn said “we’re not close to pulling the plug,” but if costs get too high “we will have to reassess what we can do.”

“We can’t push billions beyond C$7.5 billion or I think we’ll have some pretty difficult decisions to make,” he said. read more

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Petroleum News: Has oil production peaked?

Has oil production peaked?

Herrera: Statistics point to peak production; prices likely to go higher

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

It’s well known that U.S. oil production has been declining for many years. And, in Alaska, oil production is well past its peak. But has worldwide oil production peaked? And what impact might worldwide oil production capacity have on already soaring oil prices?

On May 1 Petroleum News discussed these topics with Alaska oil industry consultant Roger Herrera.

“I really have to believe that the world is very close to, if not past, peak oil,” Herrera said. read more

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The Mayo News Online: Clearing the Corrib fog

Liamy McNally on the matters of fact and the facts of the matter

De Facto

Clearing the Corrib fog

To coin a well-used phrase, ‘They haven’t gone away, you know.’ The phrase can be applied to any or all sides in the Corrib gas debate. All hands are still on deck, even if things are still a little hazy. The fog horn still sounds along the route of the Corrib gas project. Fog horns serve a positive purpose, there is hope on the horizon.

Advantica

Last Wednesday, almost four months after he received the final Advantica report, Minister Noel Dempsey released it. Of course the release was ‘managed’ – RTE received the first copy to allow them to ‘prepare’ for a television interview. They are the national broadcaster pleaded the Minister when the unfairness of it was pointed out to him. The rest of us received the report at 1pm and an interview with the Minister at 1.05pm. Speed reading comes with the job! It is just another example of the arrogance of power when dealing with people. The previous Friday certain politicians and quasi-politicians could advise journalists to ‘be ready’ for Tuesday or Wednesday. How is it that the chosen few (always) know what is about to happen?

Wednesday heralded the much-awaited Advantica report. No surprises. It lined up well alongside the draft report from last December. It was being sold by the Minister as a safety review, which it was not, it was a selective review. And, as expected, Shell will accept the findings.

Apologia

Then things started to run like an express train. Rather than spin out the reaction to the Advantica report, Shell ran away into new territory. It issued an apology. It put all the reports in the halfpenny place as the company’s Managing Director, Andy Pyle, admitted that Shell had made mistakes and apologised for the hurt caused to the men who were imprisoned for 94 days and their families. The apology was accepted, with hopes that progress would be next. Then Shell said, in a somewhat roundabout fashion, that all options were on the table. What has been known by many and acknowledged by a few (including some Shell personnel) emerged – Rossport is really out of the picture as a route for the upstream pipeline. The adjacent bay is an option as are other routes. With some reading between the lines the offshore option is on the table, albeit most unwillingly, and probably as a discussion tactic at best. This option has a choice between the deep water and shallow water option. The shallow water option would be a bonanza for Belmullet but too many people were too quick to accept the much-hated land-based option, as proposed at Bellanaboy. There is another land site on the west of Belmullet that would be more suitable from a (human) safety aspect but this was not properly examined as the Coillte site in Bellanaboy was the proverbial gift horse, or so it seemed at the time.

Vindication

Let’s go back! Advantica is a vindication of the stance taken by the Rossport Five, their families and supporters and by the opponents of the Bellanaboy site. They rejected this site and its associated routes as the best option for the terminal many years ago. What the Advantica report does is point out in black and white the serious inadequacies of Shell’s upstream pipeline proposal, along with the serious flaws attached to the Petroleum Affairs Division of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Rossport Five have done Erris, Mayo and the country a service that will never be recognised in the short term. Through their campaign they have ensured, not that the rules are re-written, but that they are written up in the first place. They have ensured that there are rules. Up to now it was a free for all for the oil and gas companies. Now responsibility for upstream pipelines rests with the Commission for Energy Regulation. This is major development. A reduction in the capacity of the Shell pipeline to a maximum of 144 bar is another major victory. Let the Shell apologists stop saying that the maximum pressure going through the pipeline is 120 bar. Let them check the Shell Environmental Impact Statement, if they find the correct one because there were so many.

The debt

And the quasi-politicos and all who are interested in ensuring that the west gets its fair share also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Rossport Five and their families. While there will be a queue to claim the place at the top table for ensuring that CER changed their criteria for providing a gas supply to towns along the gas grid, the reality is that it was the Rossport Five crisis that ensured that these regulations were changed. In effect, the Rossport Five campaign will ensure that Mayo towns receive gas, the flawed project as proposed is less flawed and responsibility for upstream pipelines will now be assumed by a statutory body. To think that no statutory body had responsibility for upstream pipelines before this makes a mockery of this whole project. It also highlights the serious inadequacies within a Department that is charged with encouraging exploration on the one hand and policing it on the other hand. It even raises questions about the role of the local authority, Mayo County Council, in such a project.

The Rossport Five campaign has been a success on all fronts. Their campaign was based on a ‘justice for all’ policy, not a ‘gains for a few’ policy.

Treading softly

There is an opportunity now for all sides to be honest with each other. The Shell to Sea campaign has wound up many local people because of the actions of a few people. This should not deter from the bigger picture which is about ensuring that the gas is brought ashore safely and that Mayo benefits. This is about a long term goal not a short term gain. An apology for wrongdoing also carries with it a duty for reparation. The Corrib gas project can be a win-win project. It is only such a pity that such pain, tears and aggression had to be experienced first.

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The Mayo News Online (Ireland): Shell’s ‘mixed messages’ uncertainty

Shell’s ‘mixed messages’ uncertainty

Stephen O’Grady

SHELL E&P Ireland Ltd has been accused of sending out ‘mixed messages’ and ‘playing games’ with the people of Mayo, in the wake of last Wednesday’s publication of the Advantica report on the Corrib gas pipeline.

Following the positive reaction to comments made by Mr Andy Pyle on Thursday, when he appeared to suggest that an alternative route would be considered for the controversial pipeline, Shell’s Managing Director subsequently retreated from this position, describing the possibility of an alternative route as ‘speculation’ on Friday. Mr Pyle also appeared to rule out definitively the off-shore option pursued by Shell to Sea campaigners, during a media briefing on Friday, when he also indicated that the company would continue to pursue injunction hearings against anyone protesting against the location of the pipeline at Rossport.

“Shell seems to be playing games once again,” said Dr Jerry Cowley, TD yesterday. “They seem to be pulling back in a perverse way on the other options and orchestrating events. They owe an explanation to the people of Mayo.”

This sentiment has been echoed by Shell to Sea spokesperson Dr Mark Garavan who has described an apology by Andy Pyle for Shell’s part in the imprisonment of the Rossport Five as ‘a tactical decision’.

Dr Garavan has identified the mediation process between Shell and the five men as the most likely avenue for progress. “When you balance up what they’re actually doing with what they’re saying, you begin to see there are mixed messages from Shell,” he said.

“We’re at a point now where we have an opportunity to get this thing done right and in a way that everybody wins. Nothing has happened with the Corrib gas pipeline on shore, it’s easy to re-configure it.”

Speaking to The Mayo News on Monday, Shell spokesperson Susan Shannon agreed that mediation provides the most likely means of a breakthrough, particularly in light of ground rules laid out by Mr Peter Cassells.

“These state that all development concepts and all routes will be considered in the process,” explained Ms Shannon.

“We are willing to consider all concepts and all route options. Having said that the current route was selected for good reason, and from an environmental and safety point of view we still believe that it’s the best option. But we’re willing to consider all others, certainly if someone can show us a better one we are willing to consider that.”

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Shell: Sustainability At The Heart Of Our Business

05/09/2006: Press Release from Royal Dutch Shell plc

Shell: Sustainability At The Heart Of Our Business
(CSRwire) Royal Dutch Shell plc today released its ninth annual report on its environmental and social performance. The report underlines the company's commitment to help meet the world's current and future energy needs in environmentally and socially responsible ways.

The Shell Sustainability Report 2005 discusses at length the energy challenge facing the world over the next half-century, which will require governments, energy users and producers to do three things simultaneously: meet the increasing demand for energy; keep supplies secure; and reduce energy's environmental and social impacts. read more

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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Oil Prices Steady Near $70 a Barrel

Oil Prices Steady Near $70 a Barrel

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: May 9, 2006

Filed at 7:45 a.m. ET

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Crude-oil futures hovered around $70 a barrel Tuesday as persistent concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions were tempered by expectations of rising U.S. gasoline stocks.

Oil prices have risen in recent weeks on anxiety that Iran, the No. 2 producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, could cut supplies because of international pressure to modify its nuclear program. read more

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LLoyds List: Britain speeds up approvals

Britain speeds up approvals
Lloyds List; May 09, 2006

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BRITAIN'S Department of Trade and Industry has approved 10 offshore oil and gas projects and six hydrocarbon developments so far this year, writes Martyn Wingrove. read more

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Financial Post (Canada): Shell Canada bids $2.4-billion for BlackRock: Hefty offer will boost oilsands reserves at petroleum giant

Shell Canada bids $2.4-billion for BlackRock: Hefty offer will boost oilsands reserves at petroleum giant
Financial Post – Canada; May 09, 2006

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CALGARY – Shell Canada Ltd.'s $2.4-billion friendly offer for BlackRock Ventures Inc. is probably high enough to keep competing bids at bay and signals Shell's hunger to make more reserves-boosting acquisitions in Canada. read more

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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: A Commodity Crunch Boosts Prices and Profits

A Commodity Crunch
Boosts Prices and Profits
May 9, 2006 6:47 a.m.

The Earth itself seems to be playing an ever-growing role in its inhabitants' economic affairs, as global manufacturing growth exceeds the current human capacity for extracting needed commodities from the sea and soil. Resulting market speculation only magnifies the problem.

Just this morning, platinum prices reached a new record in European trading, rising 1.6% to $1,205 an ounce, as Reuters reports. This comes ahead of a key report due next week on the precious metal out of London, but platinum is hardly alone in its escalating price. Last month, investors and speculators held more than $120 billion of what Bloomberg describes as “bets in U.S. commodity markets” — the second-highest amount on record, according to Citigroup. Natural gas and oil accounted for 47% of those bets, but gold and copper also figured strongly as investors try to beat the returns of stocks and bonds by seeking out commodity-linked indexes and futures whose values have been bolstered by concern about shortages of raw materials, as Bloomberg notes. read more

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Exxon's Pile of Cash Keeps Growing, Adding Fuel to the Ire Over Oil Prices

Exxon's Pile of Cash Keeps Growing,
Adding Fuel to the Ire Over Oil Prices

By DAVID REILLYMay 9, 2006; Page C1

Move over, Microsoft Corp. Here comes a new cash king.

Thanks to soaring oil prices and record earnings, global energy titan Exxon Mobil Corp. appears to be on track to amass a cash mountain even taller than Microsoft's. That would give Exxon, the world's biggest company by stock-market value, bragging rights to one of the largest cash piles at a nonfinancial company.

Exxon's bank still isn't as big as Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s. Neither is Microsoft's. But Berkshire boss Warren Buffett doesn't pay out dividends or repurchase stock. Had Exxon followed the same policy in the past three boom years, its cash pile would be about double that of Berkshire. Instead, Exxon these days pays out more than $2 billion a month to shareholders. read more

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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Oil-News Roundup 9 May 2006

Oil-News Roundup

The WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINEMay 9, 2006

Crude-oil futures fell slightly and ended below $70 as traders responded to reports of a feelings-soothing letter from Iran's president to President Bush. Here is today's well of news about oil and fuel prices.

* * *

SHELL BUYS BLACKROCK: Shell Canada Ltd., a unit of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, agreed to buy Canadian bitumen producer BlackRock Ventures Inc. for about $2.17 billion. Shell and other major oil companies have been scrambling to pump more oil and natural gas out of the ground. BlackRock (not to be confused with the famous New York private-equity firm) specializes in squeezing bitumen, a low-grade, sticky crude oil, from oil-sands deposits in Alberta. While turning oil sands into crude is a costly and difficult process, it has become an increasingly attractive alternative as oil prices have skyrocketed along with political tensions in parts of the world where crude comes easier. read more

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Irish Times: Mayo group suggests new pipeline route

Mayo group suggests new pipeline route
Lorna Siggins, Marine Correspondent
Irish Times; May 09, 2006

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A Mayo group of residents and business people who support the Corrib gas project has forwarded a modified route for the pipeline to Minister for the Marine Noel Dempsey, which, it says, would break the “current deadlock”. read more

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Irish Times: Opposition to Corrib gas project

Opposition to Corrib gas project
Irish Times; May 09, 2006

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Madam, – Firstly I would like to congratulate you for the unbiased and open view you have taken on the Corrib project so far and hope that this continues. read more

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Irish Independent: Selling the Corrib gas

Selling the Corrib gas
Irish Independent; May 09, 2006

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I read with great amusement Minister Noel Dempsey's and Shell's sentiments stressing the importance of the Corrib gas to the Irish nation. read more

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Lloyds List: Shell hopes Anne-1 will lead to Pakistan's first offshore oil output

Shell hopes Anne-1 will lead to Pakistan's first offshore oil output
Results of deepwater exploration in Indus basin are keenly awaited in nation dominated by onshore production, writes Bruce McMichael, Lahore
Lloyds List; May 09, 2006

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PAKISTAN'S energy sector is dominated by onshore gas production but one oil major is hoping to find hydrocarbons offshore. read more

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ShellNews.net: Apologies

We would like to apologise for the website being unavailable for 24 hours from Sunday 7th May. This was due to a lack of bandwidth to cope with an unprecedented number of visitors.

The site has now been upgraded to the maximum bandwidth on offer from our website hosting company. If this proves insufficient the website will be moved onto a dedicated server.

 

In the meantime we apologise for any inconvenience.

 

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

ShellNews.net: Dr Huong protest continues at Shell Centre: Thursday 4 May 2006

 BY ALFRED DONOVAN

The leaflets issued at the Shell Centre on Thursday 4th May 2006 contained extracts from an article published on ShellNews.net almost two years ago under the name of famed Shell geologist Dr John Huong, who was a Shell employee for almost 30 years.  

The article, along with two others, is currently the subject of a High Court Restraining Order and Injunction obtained by EIGHT Royal Dutch Shell companies against Dr Huong.

The litigation escalated dramatically in recent weeks with the same companies issuing a flood of further proceedings against Dr Huong. Shell has preferred to ignore the facts known to them since July 2004 regarding who was actually responsible for the publication of the articles in question (and all subsequent publications which happen to the subject of ALL of the subsequent Shell legal proceedings). read more

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Financial Times: Shell Canada's oil sands gamble

Shell Canada's oil sands gambleBy Thomas Catan
Published: May 9 2006 03:00 | Last updated: May 9 2006 03:00

Royal Dutch Shell's Canadian unit yesterday published a C$2.4bn (£1.16bn) cash offer for BlackRock Ventures; its latest decision in a multi-billion dollar bet on Canada's oil sands.

//

Shell Canada, 78 per cent owned by Shell, offered C$24 per share for the small Canadian oil sands producer – a 27 per cent premium over Friday's closing price of $18.88. The board of BlackRock unanimously approved the transaction and will recommend it to shareholders. “This acquisition will augment our overall oil sands portfolio,” said Clive Mather, president and chief executive of Shell Canada. read more

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The Times: Shell pays £1.1bn for Canada sands firm

The Times May 09, 2006

Shell pays £1.1bn for Canada sands firm

By Carl Mortished

SHELL Canada is digging deeper into Canada’s oil sands. It has agreed to buy BlackRock Ventures for C$2.4 billion (£1.1 billion) — the second investment in two months by Shell in Alberta’s bitumen deposits.

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The quoted Canadian subsidiary of the Dutch multinational has secured the agreement of BlackRock’s management to an offer of C$24 per share. The bid represents a 27 per cent premium on the closing price of BlackRock shares last week, but the stock has soared amid the frenzied activity by energy investors in Alberta’s muskeg wilderness.

Oil companies are flocking to the Canadian province, enticed by the huge resource, reckoned by some to be as large as Saudi Arabia. read more

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The Independent: Shell grows in Canada with £1.2bn oil sands deal

Shell grows in Canada with £1.2bn oil sands deal

By Michael Harrison, Business Editor

Published: 09 May 2006

Royal Dutch Shell moved further into the exploitation of unconventional oil reserves yesterday after agreeing to pay C$2.4bn (£1.2bn) for a Canadian oil sands company.

The acquisition of BlackRock Ventures will strengthen Shell's presence in the Alberta region of Canada where it already produces 84,000 barrels a day from oil sands and has an estimated 865 million barrels of reserves.

The deal will add 12,000 to 14,000 barrels a day to Shell Canada's production and provide it with an additional 209 million barrels of probable and proven resources. BlackRock's Peace River and Cold Lake fields in the Canadian state of Alberta are estimated to contain a total of 1 billion barrels of oil. Shell's fields in the Athabasca and Peace River regions contain an estimated 17 billion barrels. read more

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Daily Telegraph: Sands of time still running in favour of sands of tar

Sands of time still running in favour of sands of tar

Shell pays £1.2bn to develop oil sands interests in Canada

Spending £1.2bn on the acquisition of another company is loose change to a business the size of Shell (less than 1pc of its market capitalisation), but the acquisition of BlackRock Ventures tells us two things about Shell's thinking.

First, that it believes the oil price will not return to its 1990s level of under $10 a barrel for many years. Digging out sticky tar sands in Canada and then extracting the black gold is not cheap and Shell's valuation for BlackRock Ventures is assuming a long-run oil price of at least $50 a barrel. If the Anglo-Dutch oil giant cannot find cheaper ways to extract the oil, then the acquisition is essentially a £1bn punt on the price of a barrel of crude – the kind of bet that only companies the size of Shell can make. read more

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Daily Telegraph: Shell pays £1.2bn to develop oil sands interests in Canada

Shell pays £1.2bn to develop oil sands interests in Canada
By Christopher Hope, Industry Editor (Filed: 09/05/2006)

Royal Dutch Shell is betting that the price of oil will stay above $50 a barrel, after paying C$2.4bn (£1.2bn) for Canadian oil sands business BlackRock Ventures.

The acquisition is Shell's first notable deal since it paid £3.5bn for Enterprise Oil in 2002. It comes months after Shell's chief executive Jeroen van der Veer said acquisitions up to $10bn were back on the agenda. read more

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Barron's Online: Exxon Mobil returns in full flow

Exxon Mobil returns in full flow

By Dimitra Defotis of barron’s

FOR those stewing about the big profits of the big oil companies, the best revenge may be to invest in them. These companies offer safety for conservative investors, with their combination of refining and exploration businesses. When oil prices fall, they tend to produce more consistent earnings than pure plays on exploration, services or refining.

Several years into this mega-run for energy-related stocks and oil prices, shares in some of the largest integrated oil and gas businesses sport decent valuations. Solid returns on capital employed are especially desirable as the industry faces criticism for hoarding cash in these profitable times. And a winning company is likely to offset exploration with refining and chemicals businesses. Then a drop in energy prices and refining margins won’t hurt as much.

Research by investment bank Friedman, Billings, Ramsey (FBR) shows that some stocks look cheaper, or have heralded managements, but Exxon Mobil, the largest and best-known of them all, is less sensitive than competitors to energy price swings. And Exxon has the juiciest returns.

“Exxon’s returns on capital are over 25% greater than its peer group, which is substantial,” says Frank Holmes, chief investment officer at US Global Investors in San Antonio, Texas. “That tells you that management is better at making economic energy decisions.” Holmes added to his Exxon position in the first quarter, shortly after Exxon’s longtime chairman Lee Raymond retired. Raymond’s handpicked successor, Rex Tillerson, is a Texas native who has been at Exxon for three decades and blazed a trail as an Exxon executive in Russia in the 1990s.

The transition has been seamless, though Tillerson has sidestepped the subjects of global warming and alternative energy that pitted the outspoken Raymond against environmentalists. Tillerson’s diplomatic skills will be key to ventures with state-owned oil companies around the world and to expanding deep-water and liquefied natural-gas (LNG) projects. Already, he has cemented agreements in the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. Last year,

Exxon’s oil and gas production fell 3.6%. But spending is picking up and new fields under development should boost Exxon’s oil and gas production 13% in 2006 and 2.7% in 2007, according to Tina Vital, a Standard & Poor’s analyst.

Exxon gets about three-quarters of its earnings from its E&P business and about 10% from chemicals, a profitable business many integrated oil companies exited. Most of the rest comes from refining.

Meanwhile, Exxon has an enviable cash position. In the first quarter, Exxon made share repurchases valued at $5bn, more than the combined buybacks of Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Royal Dutch Shell and Total, according to FBR. The buyback and 2% dividend yield should put Exxon shareholders ahead about 8% this year, says Jacques Rousseau, an FBR analyst. read more

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