WPL 0.87% $35.83 woodside petroleum ltd


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    This article is from todays The West Australian
    Makes interesting reading.

    Shell denies hand in Akehurst axing

    By Michael Weir

    GLOBAL oil and gas giant Royal Dutch-Shell has quashed suggestions it had any direct hand in last month's sacking of Woodside Petroleum managing director John Akehurst.

    Speaking publicly for the first time on the matter, Shell Australia chairman Tim Warren told WestBusiness the dumping of Mr Akehurst on the day of the Woodside annual meeting - and two years before his contract was due to expire - was a Woodside board matter.

    "I am not going to comment on the internal workings of the Woodside board, neither should I, but there was no direct Shell intervention," he said.

    Some market observers have said the sacking was covered with the fingerprints of Shell, which owns 34 per cent of Woodside and has already made two unsuccessful attempts to take over the Perth-based oil and gas company.

    Mr Akehurst, a former Shell secondee to Woodside, was credited with establishing the company's fierce independence and led the lobbying that resulted in Federal Treasurer Peter Costello banning Shell's $10 billion offer in 2001 on the grounds of national interest.

    Mr Warren is one of three Shell representatives on Woodside's 12-member board, which is chaired by Charles Goode.

    At the time of the sacking Mr Goode denied the move had been forced by the company's major shareholder.

    Mr Warren also moved to play down speculation Shell would push to have another of its executives replace Mr Akehurst at Woodside.

    "What we, like any other shareholder, would like to see is an excellent new leader for Woodside who is able to lead Woodside to success in the implementation of its strategy," he said.

    "Where they come from is immaterial for us at the end of the day.

    "Woodside has a good board and a sound board who will implement a process and ultimately select a new CEO."

    Mr Warren said Shell would not bid again for Woodside unless there was a change of view within the Australian Government.

    "We made a merger offer two years ago, we were disappointed it didn't succeed, but life has to go on," he said.

    "I wouldn't speculate around the long term."

    Mr Warren said Shell remained committed to Australia, but he acknowledged there could be an impression the company was pulling out of the country.

    Shell does not operate any upstream oil and gas assets in Australia or conduct any exploration in its own right, which he said was a matter of efficiency. Its key interests are a one-sixth interest in the North West Shelf and 26.6 per cent of the Sunrise gasfield in the Timor Sea, both operated by Woodside, and a 28.57 per cent interest in the ChevronTexaco-operated Gorgon gasfield.

    "We argue that we put so much resources into ensuring that Woodside is a good and competent operator why not use that company," Mr Warren said.

    He said oil exploration in Australia was not prospective enough to compete globally for Shell's exploration dollars.

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