Greg Walters / Sabine Pirone
Bloomberg / Washington Post
July 02, 2008
BP, Europe's second-largest oil company, said expatriates at its Russian affiliate might have to leave the country this month as a shareholder dispute threatens to damage the company's oil output at a time of record prices.
Visas for Robert Dudley, TNK-BP's chief executive, and other foreigners working at the venture expire at the end of the month. Factions in the company submitted two rival applications for work permits to a Moscow city committee and might not be able to reach a compromise by the deadline.
"We have been given no grounds to believe these issues will be resolved before senior international staff and their families will have to leave Russia," Dudley said in a statement read by spokeswoman Marina Dracheva. "Unfortunately, this now appears very likely. We have been working with the Russian authorities and within Russian laws since April to resolve these issues and will continue to do so."
BP is struggling for control of TNK-BP, Russia's third-largest crude producer, with its billionaire partners Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik. The shareholders have called for Dudley to resign for favoring BP's interests over theirs. The venture pumped 1.43 million barrels a day of oil and gas condensate last year.
BP, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell face rising competition for oil and gas assets from governments as crude prices surged to records and discoveries lag behind a surge in demand. Venezuela forced Exxon out of the Orinoco Belt, South America's largest oil fields, while Russia took over control of the $22 billion Sakhalin-2 venture from Shell.
Dudley said in May that he filed paperwork for 150 foreign employees after TNK-BP shareholder and Executive Director Khan submitted an "unauthorized" request for 63 slots in April.
The Moscow city government received the two sets of contradictory applications from TNK-BP and chose 71 as a "compromise figure," said Yevgeny Chernetsov, deputy head of the Moscow Committee for Interregional Relations and National Policy, which is handling the quota requests.
"Many of the expatriate staff working in TNK-BP will have to leave Russia and may not be able to return," said David Nicholas, a London-based BP spokesman, when contacted by telephone yesterday. "The loss of the staff will definitely damage TNK-BP, its performance and by extension the performance of the Russian oil sector."
TNK-BP has suspended several drilling projects as employees seconded from BP remain barred from work and the billionaire partners seek to overturn their contracts, BP Russian Investments head Alistair Graham told reporters in Moscow on June 19.