Statoil's Helge Lund Tours the Eagle Ford

Statoil and Helge Lund are now big players in the oil & gas shale the U.S. of all places. That's primarily the result of two large joint ventures with Chesapeake in the Marcellus and Talisman in the Eagle Ford. Mr. Lund (CEO) was in the states last week and took in parts of South Texas and the company's JV operations with Talisman. The Norwegians are having to come to terms with issues like rattle snakes, the Texas drought, and high density onshore horizontal drilling. Shale drilling is much different than the major offshore fields the company is familiar with.

Statoil does not operate, but don't expect it to stay that way forever. As a major player in other parts of the world, they'll eventually want to put their feet on the ground and get the same first hand knowledge that is gained by owning the operations.

Helge Lund, CEO of Norway's Statoil, likes to say his company is more than just a financial investor in shale gas fields in the U.S., and he made that abundantly clear one morning last week.

Up before dawn, the tall, soft-spoken Norwegian ate breakfast tacos and endured a long drive on bumpy dirt roads before arriving at a remote well site, about 100 miles south of San Antonio, where mesquite and prickly pear blanket the dusty landscape and deer, jackrabbits and rattlesnakes are the primary residents.

His mission was to get an up-close look at an operation in the Eagle Ford shale formation, where the company launched a joint venture last year, and he spent several hours in the sweltering South Texas sun doing just that.

"The key point for us is we do not look at this as a short-term investment," said Lund, 48, wearing thick red coveralls, steel-toe boots and a hard hat. Rather, he said, it is an important part of the company's future.

Last fall, Statoil announced it would pay $1.3 billion for properties in the Eagle Ford shale formation and team up with Canada's Talisman Energy to develop them. Two years earlier, the Norwegian oil giant paid roughly the same amount for a stake in Marcellus shale properties in the Northeast U.S. operated by Chesapeake Energy.

Statoil is among a number of foreign oil companies including France's Total, China's Cnooc and Australia's BHP Billiton that are paying huge sums to enter U.S. shale rock formations, where recent breakthroughs in drilling and extraction technology - pioneered by small U.S. producers - have put massive quantities of natural gas within reach.

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