10 April 2006

Williams, Chavez and Putin

What's the difference between Danny Williams, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin?

Not much if you ask some people.

But there are plenty of differences.

For one thing, Danny doesn't have an army, didn't come to power in a coup and wasn't once an agent for the intelligence services.

Sure Danny likes to talk about expropriating ExxonMobil's interest in oil and gas properties offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

Hugo Chavez doesn't talk about it.

He does it.

The same weekend that talks fell apart between Danny Williams and the consortium looking to develop the 700 million barrel heavy oil Hebron project offshore Newfoundland, Chavez seized control of two oil fields in Venezuela from companies that refused to give up their oil fields to the Venezuelan state-owned oil company.

Both Total SA and Eni have vowed to fight in court for compensation over the seizure, based on contracts signed in the 1990s giving the companies licenses to produce oil from the fields. Companies with smaller interests, such as Norway's Statoil, either sold their shares or complied with the Venezuelan demands. Statoil is owned 70% by the Government of Norway but operates as a company under the Norwegian equivalent of the Companies Act.

After months of wrangling, ExxonMobil sold its interests in some fields but continues to fight over larger projects such as a multi-billion oil sands project.

The ongoing dispute between Venezuela and the major oil companies adds upwards pressure to oil prices already reacting to instability in other areas of the world.

While Venezuela has been reportedly courting state-owned oil companies from Russia, Iran, and China, Williams has so far refrained from inviting new companies to develop the gas and oil reserves offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

For his part, Williams told The Telegram that he had written to ExxonMobil about selling its 38% stake in Hebron. company spokespeople had earlier in the week stated flatly that the company wasn't interested in selling its stake to Williams or any other party.