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Tony Hayward seeks redemption in Small Oil

By SHAWN LANGLOIS

LONDON (MarketWatch) -- Two years ago, with the Gulf of Mexico slicked over in gurgling crude, Tony Hayward gushed onto the pop culture scene as the personification of insensitive corporate greed.

Now, a couple summers removed from seeing his career and reputation go up in flames, Hayward is getting a shot at redemption in his role as the new boss at Genel Energy. In London this week, he was even an unspoken star attraction at the FT' s Global Energy Leaders Summit.

Time heals all wounds. Deep pockets and far-reaching industry connections don' t hurt either. It seems the U.K.--well versed in taking the piss and moving on--is ready to forgive and forget in a way the U.S. probably never will be.

Looking rather dapper, tanned, refreshed, even cheery, his transition from Big Oil boss to small-time Iraqi driller seems to have treated him well as he sauntered to the stage at the FT' s energy summit.

He asked us for his life back; well, he' s apparently got it. Hayward is now the CEO for Genel Energy, a "relatively tiny" oil company with exploration and production operations in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Putting its size in perspective, BP lost the market-cap equivalent of about 30 Genels in the wake of the blown well and, today, is still valued at about $140 billion. Genel comes in around $3 billion.

He' s backed by wealthy financier Nathaniel Rothschild, of the renowned banking Rothschilds, and Hayward has designs on extracting some "significant" oil from the thorny and lucrative world of Iraqi crude.

Clearly not lacking confidence, Hayward still has that impish flair and a way with words. He was on hand, not far from his tony Mayfair office, to join dozens of his cronies in espousing the future of fossil fuels. Essentially, they' re not going anywhere. Might as well make some money.

"The Stone Age didn' t end because the world ran out of stones, and the Oil and Gas Age isn' t going to end because we run out of oil and gas," Hayward said, proving, yes, he' s still got it.

"We will find a better way to produce energy at some point, but it' s not any time in the next two or three decades." he continued. An Exxon Mobil exec on the panel said that by 2040, 80% of the world' s energy will still come from fossil fuels, "because they' re here, and they' re affordable." Hayward nodded in agreement. So did everybody on the panel. How cozy.

Everybody except Jeremy Leggett. The Solarcentury chairman and renewables evangelist was the proverbial pork pie at this bar mitzvah. Before he took the stage to address an audience comprised mostly of industry types, that he might need an anger-management app.

And, as expected, it didn' t take him long to stir things up. Leggett spoke of potential oil shocks and cited data predicting the Arctic will be ice free by the summer of 2016. "Of course, many of you are sitting there thinking ' great, we can get out there and drill!" he said. Only partly joking.

Then in all seriousness: "I don' t think history will treat the oil and gas industry very well at all ... in 10 years time." Awkward silence. You could have heard a methane bubble pop.

Sure, we can' t help but root for the idealists, but we also need the realists. In a perfect world, the two intersect and everybody wins; this is the oil industry, though, and lines are often blurred. Where are we headed, Tony?

"There' s infinite gas in the world, and there' s probably infinite oil; certainly infinite in the time scale any of us can think about," he said. In other words, we' ll all be dead before it even matters. Fuel up.

Dow Jones Newswires

09/20/2012

 

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