US oil groups accuse Washington

The US oil industry claims Washington undermined oil companies’ negotiating position in Venezuela by trying to extract more tax from them in the US.

Venezuela last week took majority control of key oil investments by foreign companies.

While BP, Statoil, Chevron and Total accepted new terms, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips refused. Industry representatives said talks between Caracas and Exxon and Conoco over new contract terms for foreign companies had been made more difficult because of measures being debated in the US Congress to raise the tax burden on oil companies.

“It makes it harder to negotiate because they’re saying, ‘your own government is doing it, so why shouldn’t we’,” said John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, the main US trade association for the oil and natural gas industry.

“The whole world is viewing the oil industry as a cookie jar,” he said.

The US has been debating whether to raise taxes on the industry and trying to renegotiate royalty agreements in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico. An industry insider close to the talks said: “You are sending a signal to the rest of the world that changing fiscal terms is OK. Yet for the international oil companies, it is not OK if they are going to provide their shareholders with stable and reliable profits. Without rule of law and stability, when we make a billion dollar investment . . . we are defenceless.’’

Exxon and Conoco refused to sign a deal on how the state-owned PdVSA would take majority control of heavy crude oil projects in the Orinoco, valued at a total of at least $25bn (€18.4bn).

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, announced the takeover of majority control of operations in the Orinoco belt this year along with the nationalisation ofVenezuela’s largest electricity and telephone companies.

Oil majors argue that national oil companies have taken so much control that international companies now have ownership or access to less than 10 per cent of the world's oil resources.

Venezuela is seen as one of the most extreme cases alongside Russia, which has also been taking back control, deal by deal.

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