Total sets the record straight after misleading newspaper reports

Vol 3, PW 24 (22 Dec 99) Midstream & Downstream

Is it any wonder oil companies refuse to talk to newspapers when half the time the articles printed are little more than a series of half-truths.

In the last issue we reported Elf Aquitaines vigorous denial that it is about to grant 35% to Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) in an Iranian concession. In this issue our attention turns to Elfs parent company Total.

If you believe what has been written about Total in India recently you could be forgiven for thinking it is about to launch a no holds barred frontal assault on all sectors of the Indian oil and gas sector. Much of the (mis)information is down to extensive interviews with Jean Claude Breton, Totals chief in India who sits in Mumbai.

Breton claims he has been extensively misquoted and to set the record straight tells Petrowatch: 1)Total is NOT interested in acquiring Essar Oils Jamnagar refinery. (This is pure invention.

They [Essar] wrote to us two years ago but since then we have had no contact.) 2)Total is NOT negotiating with the promoters of Mangalore Refineries and Petrochemicals (MRPL) for a stake in its greenfield refinery.

(We have just had some talks and are collecting information. We are not negotiating.

) 3)Total is NOT about to jump into a deepwater alliance with ONGC for a permit in the Krishna Godavari basin or to help resuscitate the Bombay High. (We are mainly interested in downstream activity, not upstream.

) 4)Total is NOT preparing a hostile takeover bid for Hindustan Petroleum, Bharat Petroleum or any other stand-alone refinery. (We are no different to any other oil company.

If the government opens the sector we would be interested. It all depends on the government.

At present its just talk. Theres nothing happening.

) Luckily for Total, the new oil minister Ram Naik will not be influenced by the flurry of misleading reports surrounding the French majors future plans in India. On Wednesday (8th December), Naik met Breton in Delhi for a 30-minute meeting (which followed a courtesy visit from Enron on the same day).

A source at the meeting tells Petrowatch Breton stressed Totals ambition to enter the retail-marketing sector but played down the companys interest in acquiring a stake in local refinery companies. Until the government introduces reform of this sector, Total is like any other company and can do nothing but watch and wait.