Apache and Abellio – asset disposals

Forties fieldOil firm Apache may split North Sea operations from North American interests after a re-evaluation of its international assets. The Houston-based corporation insists that it has no plans to quit the UK, saying that it has invested heavily – commissioning a satellite platform for the Forties field in 2013, for example. Apache entered the North Sea through its £401million acquisition of Forties from BP in 2003. A mature basin now, Forties was discovered in 1970 and is one of the largest oilfields in the North Sea. Apache is under pressure from activist investor Jana Partners to sell assets. On October 14th2014 it was announced that Alfonso Leon, Apache’s chief financial officer, is resigning from the corporation only eight months after he was appointed to the job.

Mobil's Beryl B platform @ commissioning

Like Marathon, Chevron, Shell, BP and other North Sea operators, Apache wants to concentrate on onshore resource plays and accelerated drilling activities in North America, namely divestment strategies, portfolio optimization and focus on low-cost shale projects. Taxation changes, new regulations and the avoidance of costly, difficult decommissioning are other considerations. OPEC is not cutting output – companies in the red when the price of Brent crude was $109 a barrel in 2013 are redrawing business plans with prices now down to under $70 in December 2014.  http://www.rigzone.com/news/article.asp?a_id=135369&utm_source=WeeklyNewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=2014-10-10&utm_content=&utm_campaign=feature_1

Forties Charlie platform

Apache’s denial of any major sell-off plans contradicts a Sunday Times report which claimed that an investment bank (Goldman Sachs) was seeking bidders for Apache’s North Sea assets. The company is reported in the Herald newspaper as saying ‘a sell-off is one of two future options’, the other presumably being a separate company for U.K. or non-shale ops.

http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/10/18/supporting-social-cohesion-and-communities-in-scotland  ‘Responsibility for the regulation, licencing, royalties and tariffs for mineral and other natural resource exploitation in Scottish territory’ – article by Stephen Cairns, Greenpeace

Unsurprisingly this uncertainty in a vital industry wasn’t announced in the lead-up to September’s Scottish referendum.

http://platformlondon.org/2014/09/26/bp-and-indyref-the-need-to-constrain-corporate-influence-in-our-democracy  Constrain corporate influence in our democracy.

Offshore and rail trade union RMT said it would be a ‘severe blow’ if Apache pressed ahead with a withdrawal.

Testing fire fighting equipment, Forties Alpha

Incidentally, RMT members voted on what official stance the union was to take during the independence campaign. RMT held a Scottish ballot: the result – narrowly in favour of ‘Yes’ – was announced on September 3rd 2014.

Returning to the asset disposal theme, let’s call this Abellio-Up. Aberdeen-based bus and train operator FirstGroup has lost the ScotRail contract. The decade-long £6billion franchise has been awarded to Dutch rail operator Abellio, whose big ambition is ‘integration’.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said that the Scottish National Party (SNP) – who broadly welcomed Abellio winning the franchise – had colluded with the political elite at Westminster to deny an opportunity for rail operation to return to a form of public ownership. The good news is a planned reintroduction of steam trains to scenic routes


In ‘The network’s worst will soon be running Scotland’s trains’ and ‘Why are we being forced to sleep with Serco?’, Scottish Review editor Kenneth Roy details the poor performance of Abellio on Greater Anglia routes and how the Scottish Government has handed Serco a 15-year franchise to operate the Caledonian sleeper service between London and Scotland, again replacing FirstGroup. Serco is already the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation and it is banned from being awarded any contracts by the UK Government. Serco takes over the sleeper service on April Fool’s Day 2015 – the same day that Abellio gets its hands on the rest of the Scottish railway network.

Serco had been awarded the £243million contract to run the ferry service between Orkney, Shetland and the Scottish mainland. To date the company’s involvement in publicly-financed contracts in Scotland had been focused on operating the tagging scheme for the Prison Service, running HMP Kilmarnock and the Dungavel Immigration Centre. As a ferry operator Serco introduced itself to the people of Orkney and Shetland by cutting concessionary fares for pensioners and disabled travellers from 25% to 10%, and threatening to axe 36 jobs. The operator revealed a new visual identity for the service, and soon a character called Magnus the Viking was adorning their boats. As soon as Magnus was unveiled, the company was forced to defend him – academics and tour operators highlighted how Magnus looked similar to images employed by the Nazis in Aryan race propaganda.’

www.scottishreview.net  Articles: ‘Off the Rails’ – Kenneth Roy & ‘The horrors of the ferry’ – Jordan Ogg

Serco’s chairman has quit, and its share price has plunged by a third.

In addition, although shortlisted, FirstGroup has lost out to Virgin/Stagecoach in the bidding for the East Coast mainline rail route. Mick Cash said the re-privatisation of the line was “a national disgrace and an act of utter betrayal”. He added: “It is simply ludicrous to even contemplate re-privatisation when not only have there been two previous private sector failures on the East Coast route but when the public sector rescue operation has been such a stunning success.”

The thousands plunging headstrong to embrace the nationalist (single-issue) cause rewards the foot-soldiering SNP for their sterling role in the referendum, but folk should bear in mind that at heart we have a populist neo-liberal Scottish Government, craven to party, electoral and business interests. From Holyrood, the SNP just about manage to run a system founded on privilege, a system that has failed to alleviate child poverty or tackle the ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor, for example.

http://glasgowanni.com Scotland’s shocking levels of child poverty revealed

Transferring power from Westminster to Holyrood is noble and might give the Scots a chance against the onslaught of global capitalism, but Westminster hasn’t got the power to donate. It may be democratic, but it’s a bourgeois democracy, reductionist to boot. ‘The dull reality of the SNP’s economic perspective will trump their social justice instinct’ – Scottish Left Review.

Voters may reflect on the SNP’s fascination with Rupert Murdoch and the love-fest that characterised Alex Salmond’s sycophantic dealings with the hubristic Donald Trump. Whether viewed as brazen grandstanding or the admirable promotion of Scotland, our First Minister has pointedly ignored the bullied residents at Menie, who are his constituents. Such is the matrix of power-driven, monied relations. Holyrood dealings with Ineos at Grangemouth betray the SNP’s relationship to the trade unions. Salmond trumpets ‘a living wage’, but nowhere in the referendum White Paper is to be found plans to increase union membership and participation, for example. Yet the SNP Trade Union Group now has more members than the Scottish Labour Party. Not to mention rent controls, funding the NHS, ending charitable status for private education, a bank to fund small and medium businesses, or any forms of public ownership to challenge the hegemony of big business. When the Calman income tax reforms were being negotiated, to the surprise of the Unionists, the SNP meekly acquiesced to a set of deeply-flawed proposals. It remains to be seen how they will deal with the delivery of recommendations by the Smith Commission.  http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/11/08/responsibility-without-power-no-way-to-run-scotland-in-the-union

Promised a continuation of the monarchy, citizens in Scotland are subjected to the unedifying scenario of the Queen purring with regal joy when David Cameron phoned to tell her the referendum result, that their precious Kingdom was, if not United, still part of the family. Laconic Prime Minister Cameron is a descendant of King William IV and his mistress Dorothea Jordan through their illegitimate daughter Lady Elizabeth FitzClarence. Like his father and brother, William IV behaved oddly. He could often be heard making strange animal noises. Researchers have announced that purring is a sign of fear.

So when analyzing our SNP Government, let’s bear in mind the continued privatisations, asset disposals, promises of cuts in corporation tax, foreign takeovers and ownership of vital industries, the misnamed think-tanks, lobbyists, multinationals and monopolies, cartels and cabals, cozy cronyism, conflicts of interest, coercive business practices, membership of NATO and armed police on our streets. Let’s not forget the deprivation, food banks, fuel poverty, rural isolation, cracked reactors, drifting vessels carrying radioactive waste and the relentless reliance on (and extraction of) fossil fuels. Although the Scottish Government pursues a laudable renewables programme, it advocates little by way of community ownership, and so far its ambitious renewables agenda is noteworthy for poor infrastructure and little manufacturing based in Scotland. To their credit, delegates at the SNP annual conference in Perth on November 16th passed a resolution effectively opposing shale gas exploration.

Hiding fag packets and taking a few thousand drivers off the road are populist policies, but I’d like to see Scottish Government action to wipe out Poll and Council Tax debt, a clear run for non-SNP ‘Yes’ activists (for example Lesley Riddoch, Cat Boyd and Maggie Chapman) at the 2015 General Election, votes for sixteen and seventeen year olds, building affordable housing that folk want to live in, and support for projects such as Lateral North.

There, I’ve managed to cover Apache and rail franchises without using any forced metaphors about cowboys or wagon trains.

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