Swiss-based consortium plans to look for oil in third world

The list of the board of directors reads like a page from the international Who's Who directory. And that's just about what it is: An elite group of high-flying business tycoons who were recently brought together to dispense a new brand of foreign aid. The International Energy Development Corporation (IEDC), a newly formed venture to explore for petroleum in mostly third world countries, is the idea of Maurice Strong, founder of Petrocanada, Ottawa's own oil company. But IEDC is an energy company with a differrence. For one thing, unlike Petrocanada, it's privately owned.

Also, it now has a coterie of personnel -- a coterie of heavyweights with know-how, contacts at the top, and even financial resources rivaled only by a very few organizations. Mr. Strong, a former United Nations official, roped in Canadian, American, European and Mideast executives for a special mission.

Combining more or less equal doses of profit motivation and a genuine desire to render tangible help to the poorer nations worst hit by the energy crisis, IEDC proposes to explore for oil and natural gas and to develop it for the benefit of the host country if found.

Based in Geneva and wrapped in the neutral Swiss flag, IEDC is trying to avoid appearing like a multinational even though its financial, technical, and human resources are being drawn from several continents.

For the IEDC board, Mr. Strong, acting as its chairman, tapped luminaries like Dr. Francisco Parra, a Venezuelan who was economist guru of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and architect of his country's state oil company; Keith F. Huff, Exxon's former world manager for exploration; Abdul Razzak Hussain, vice-chairman of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation; and Gus A. Van Wielingen of Calgary, a self-made millionaire oilman.

In addition, there are Swedish automakers, international bankers, petroleum industry experts such a Pehr G. Gyllenbammar of Volvo; Nordine Ait-Lacussine, formerly of Algeria's Sonatrach; and John M. Godfrey, another prominent Canadian. According to Jim Saunders, president of Sulpetro, the main objective "is to put third world countries into the energy business."

IEDC is a business venture to be sure. It is expected to profit from selling expertise, developing fuel supplies for home consumption, and sales abroad of any surplus. But the operation is intended as a "grass roots" exercise with a good measure of self-help involved in the actual realization of a given country's energy potential. Sulpetro, Mr. Strong's Phoenix-based private company; AZL Resources Inc.; KPC; and Volvo are equal 25 percent shareholders in EIDC with an initial total capitalization of $10 million (US).

A recently formed IEDC subsidiary, International Gas Development Corporation, headed by George D. Carameros, former vice-chairman of El Paso Company with extensive liquefied natural gas experience, is yet another indication of the parent's possible future involvement in this fast-growing facet of the worldwide energy trade.

Several initial prospects in farflung places are now under evaluation, Mr. Saunders said in an interview. They happen to be in existing petroleum producing areas where perhaps the gas potential has not so far received as much attention as oil.

IEDC will not overemphasize gas, Mr. Saunders says, but the clean-burning and so far underused fuel will receive special attention as an alternative energy source. "this is not a philanthropic gesture by any means because we are looking for an eventual profit for ourselves," Mr. Saunders says.

Kuwait for example, now a leading oil producer and exporter, has an obvious motivation to help find new sources of supply to ease the pressure on its own depleting reserves.

Canada's Sulpetro also may go international with some of the exploration and marketing innovations practiced to successfully on its western Canadian turf.

The firm's approach is either by invitation through the vast connections of its directors or by old fashioned door-knocking. IEDC seeks concession rights and will have the capacity to offer turnkey energy development management just like any one of the "seven sisters," the main pillars of the international oil business.

But as mr. Saunders explains, IEDC hopes to avoid the stigma of big oil, usually regarded either with apprehension or treated with outright hostility in the sensitive third world in particular.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.