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Minister seeks offshore license termination

22.01 2010 08:00

In a letter to Aker, Ghana’s Minister of Energy asserts that the company’s offshore exploration and development license in Ghana is invalid. Aker does not see any foundation for such an assertion.

In November 2008, Aker was awarded an ownership interest in and operatorship of a petroleum offshore exploration and development license at a deepwater field off the coast of Ghana on Africa’s west coast. The petroleum agreement had been negotiated with the national oil company GNPC and the then current government of Ghana, and was presented to and ratified by Ghana’s Parliament ( see enclosure ). Subsequently, elections have been held in Ghana and a new government is in power.

“Over the past six months we have had indications that the new administration is seeking to withdraw our license agreement. These signals have now been confirmed in the letter from the Minister that states that the agreement is considered invalid. The reason given is that the agreement does not meet legal requirements that a Ghanaian company must be party to the agreement. We see no basis in law or fact for this claim,” says Aker’s investment manager Maria Moræus Hanssen, who oversees Aker’s interests in Ghana.

“Aker Ghana and Aker have acted as required. The agreement has been entered into as it was unanimously adopted by Ghana’s Parliament. Our subsidiary in Ghana has assumed the responsibilities under the agreement, and offered to formally enter into the agreement, as required by law. Naturally, we have regarded the agreement as valid, and we have, with the understanding of other Ghanaian authorities, gathered and processed seismic survey data to an extent that exceeds our obligations under the petroleum agreement,” says Ms. Moræus Hanssen.

Partner criticized

In the letter the Minister also raises questions regarding Aker’s local partner Chemu Power. Chemu has been subjected to a smear campaign appearing in Ghana’s media accompanied by attempts to link the company to rumors about improper conduct in a matter unrelated to Aker and the petroleum agreement.

Aker’s agreements with Chemu were made at the encouragement of Ghanaian authorities to include a local partner and there has been complete transparency regarding Chemu’s five-percent ownership interest in the license. Chemu’s role is also known and identified in the petroleum agreement that was put forth and approved by Ghana’s elected representatives. Across-the-board transparency has been a key requisite for Aker.

A careful investigation by Aker of Chemu prior to entering into their business relationship did not uncover any questionable issues or concerns associated with either Chemu or its principals. To further protect Aker’s interests, Aker insisted that the agreement with Chemu feature clauses that provide for termination of the local partner agreement in the event that Chemu had acted, or acts, illegally or in a way that contravenes commonly accepted business practices.

“No such improprieties have been uncovered, but we are, naturally, monitoring the situation carefully,” says Ms. Moræus Hanssen. She notes that the cooperation with Chemu so far has been of limited scope. In total, Aker has paid Chemu approximately NOK 2 million as payment for documented costs related to administrative services of a practical nature performed in Ghana, including payment for rent and personnel.

Road ahead

“As is well known, Aker was excited about the opportunity to participate in developing Ghana’s oil industry when we entered into the petroleum agreement in 2008. The current turn of events is deeply disappointing. As an initial step toward resolution, we have informed Ghana’s Minister of Energy that we do not accept the claim that the agreement is invalid,” says Moræus Hanssen.

Moræus Hanssen further states that it is self evident that Aker’s success in the country depends on maintaining good relations with Ghana’s authorities. She also notes that the Minister of Energy has indicated a possible solution to the matter under which Aker will have the expenses it has incurred in connection with its seismic survey covered.

“These are all issues that factor into our upcoming dialogue with Ghana’s authorities. We intend to be constructive. The goal is to arrive at a solution that serves the interests of both parties,” says Moræus Hanssen.