Interview with Petter Undem, Managing Director of Total E&P Australia
Could you tell us more about the history of Total Group and Total E&P Australia?
The Total Group today is the result of the merger of the two main French companies, Total and Elf Acquitaine, and the Belgium company PetroFina back in the late 1990s. Total S.A. itself first began as a company in 1924 when French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré created Compagnie Française des Pétroles (CFP). CPF explored for oil and gas around the world, and created the gasoline brand “Total” which is how we’re now known.
In Australia, Total had some fuel stations located in the Eastern states from the late 1950s but we first started exploring for oil and gas in Australia in 1963, just over 50 years ago as part of the company’s global strategy to diversify from the traditional heartlands of Europe, Middle East and Africa. Total’s early activities in Australia demonstrated some of the pioneering spirit of the oil and gas industry at that time. Our first Australian office was opened in Adelaide in 1963, and the same year Total funded some seismic activities in Australia’s Simpson Desert, the world’s largest sand dune desert covering around 176,500km2 in Central Australia. With no road across this region, the CGG crew that completed the work had to build a road to provide support to the seismic activities that were undertaken through the winter months of 1963. Today, this track remains one of the few ways of driving across the desert by four wheel drive vehicle, and is known locally as the “French Line”.
Since that time, Total’s exploration and production activities in Australia have varied from both onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration, to exploration and production of minerals such as uranium, coal and gold. Other companies that have since merged with Total, namely PetroFina and Elf Acquitaine, have also had substantial interests in Australia in the last 50 years including in oil, gas, coal, copper, lead, zinc and silver.
Today, Total S.A. has a number of subsidiaries in Australia, including Total E&P Australia that has offices in Perth and Brisbane, Total Gas & Power that has an office in Brisbane, and Total Oil, Atotech and SunPower based in Melbourne.
Can you describe the activities of Total E&P Australia?
Total E&P Australia is currently a major partner in two Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) projects in Australia – the Gladstone LNG (GLNG) project on Curtis Island in Queensland which is being operated by Australian company Santos, and the Ichthys LNG project near Darwin in the Northern Territory which is being operated by Japanese company INPEX. On these two projects alone Total is spending over US$15 billion in the six years to 2017, but aside from our financial input we also have a number of secondees working in the project teams providing specialised skills and advice. We’re pleased that the GLNG project started exporting LNG in October 2015, whilst the Ichthys LNG project is still in construction and will start producing LNG by September 30, 2017.
Aside from these investments, Total is also exploring for oil and gas off the northwest coast of Australia and also has some onshore exploration permits in Western Queensland.
Given our current activities in Australia and the significant investments we’re making, Total has a long-term future in Australia, and the country is a key focus for Total S.A. globally. Australia is blessed with abundant reserves and is also located in close proximity to Asian markets, the fastest growing LNG market, so we plan to be a long-term participant in the Australian oil and gas industry for years to come.
Can you describe your personal background and your role as Managing Director of Total E&P Australia?
I have been Managing Director of Total E&P Australia since August 2015. In this role I am responsible for all of our exploration and production activities in Australia, including our 30% stake in the Ichthys LNG project, our 27.5% stake in the GLNG project and our offshore and onshore exploration activities. I bring to the role nearly 30 years of experience in the industry. My most recent position before coming to Australia was based in Argentina as Development Director for Total, but prior to this I had a range of senior roles across the UK, France and United Arab Emirates.
How do you envisage the future of your company and how can the French-Australian Chamber help you achieve your objectives?
As mentioned above, we see a long-term future in Australia and a key part of being involved in the industry in Australia is ensuring that we have good partnerships within industry and our wider group of stakeholders. FACCI is obviously an important membership for us because we are proud of our French heritage and support any strengthening of business relationships between French and Australian companies. In particular we have been involved with FACCI in Queensland and Western Australia and look forward to our relationships with FACCI and its member companies continuing to grow.
For more information, please visit Total E&P Australia's website: www.total.com.au
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