News blitz reveals green Woodside

THE thrust and parry of the attempt by Shell to acquire Woodside Petroleum has prompted some analysts to believe the Australian company is seeking to produce “a press release a day”, to dissuade its shareholders from defecting.

They point to recent examples, in which Woodside announced a major project to extract oil from mallee trees and produce electricity, in a venture that appears greener than an Irishman’s heart.

Last week it followed with another announcement that would give it great goodwill with conservationists and improve its credibility with shareholders – acquisition of a modest share of one of the world’s leading developers of wave energy power systems.

While Woodside could be expected to make the most of such virtuous developments, the theory that the decisions were made to counter Shell does not bear close examination.

Such green growth was foreshadowed at least four months ago, in a Woodside document which outlined medium and long-term goals. In the third of three “horizons” planned for the company, the participation in green energy projects was envisaged (the first two dealt with current or imminent developments).

Woodside managing director John Akehurst indicated that the pursuit of alternative energy projects, probably on a modest scale, would give the company a window to participate in whatever new energy sources proved to be attractive in the next decade.

It is true that at the time the horizons were described Woodside would have been aware that Shell was likely to swoop again (having failed in its first bid) but the decisions on waves and trees were not hastily made to meet the new threat.

In any case, the two green acquisitions were approved by the Woodside board – which includes three Shell executives among its 10 directors.

The consideration of the very modest purchases – Woodside may spend more on paper clips – would have gone on for months.

Woodside’s move to the green is part of the world oil industry’s realisation that it must embrace new technologies. A global oil company executive recently predicted that petroleum’s dominance of world energy would last only another 20 years; other ways of providing energy, particularly for transport, were about to emerge.

More significant in the bitter dispute over control of Woodside are plans for the two Timor Sea provinces.

Phillips Petroleum, which expects to be delivering gas from the Bayu Undan fields to Darwin by 2004, has gained a remarkable concession – that it will sell gas to Australian customers under agreements that had previously been secured by the Woodside consortium.

When Greater Sunrise gas is delivered later to Darwin, some offsetting arrangement will apparently be made to compensate its operators for this concession.

Even more significant is that Woodside has passed to Phillips responsibility for marketing its LNG throughout the Asia Pacific region. Woodside has made no secret of its dissatisfaction with Shell’s failure to sell Australian LNG in recent years.


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