Friday, August 21, 2009

Offshore discovery from Papua New Guinea

Keli Taureka was raised in PNG, but learned the ropes on in California
By Rowan Callick Article from: The Australian

A GIANT within China’s highly-competitive energy world has emerged, intriguingly, from Papua New Guinea.
Against very determined global competition, Isikeli Taureka, Chevron’s country manager for China, has won the tender to develop a 2, 000 sq km gas field in mountainous Sichuan in a multi-billion-dollar project with PetroChina.
Papua New Guineans can be found in some surprising places, such as the vice-president for flight operations at Etihad Airways, Granger Narara.
But Taureka is the first to succeed in such a high-profile way.
“This is the big league,” he says.
Isikeli– known as“Keli” – Taureka graduated in economics from the University of PNG in 1976, and worked at the Bank of South Pacific, then owned by the National Australia Bank, for12years. The job included a spell in Melbourne.
Then he decided he’d “had enough” of banking.
“The capital market wasn’t very complex, and it wasn’t exciting any more,” he says.
His next challenge was heading the imploding state-owned monopoly telco, Post and Telecommunication Corp. He separated the two functions and then established PNG’s first mobile phone company as a subsidiary of Telikom.
“As ever in PNG, politics interfered in what should have been a smooth transition to corporatisation,” he says.
“Telecommunications were among the country’s crown jewels.
“I tried to slash costs and introduce greater accountability, but the unions objected.
“The vision of enabling grassroots people was lost.
“The country couldn’t progress while calls were costing more than one kina a minute.”
Taureka is delighted that private competition has recently, finally, arrived, increasing access and choice.
Then in 1995 his life as a global executive began– though he didn’t know it at the time.
Chevron, which owned large oil fields and prospects in PNG’s Highlands, headhunted him.
“That was one of the luckiest breaks in my life, to be employed by a great company.”
In fact, the world’s sixth-biggest Chevron liked what it saw of his work in PNG, and shifted him to San Ramon in northern California, its global HQ.
There, he became the planning manager for international exploration and production, and facilitated top management meetings.
“It was a plunge into the real world of big business,” he says.
“I saw how companies were run, the processes and people and behaviour required to achieve outstanding results– things you don’t get to see in PNG.”
After two years he thought he would be assigned back to PNG for good. ” It didn’t dawn on me that this would trigger an international career.”
Taureka did return briefly to PNG, but also looked after Chevron’s West Australian operations on Barrow Island. In 2002 he became a Bangkok-based managing director, looking after operations in Thailand, Cambodia and Bangladesh– reorganising things to confront steep production declines.
In 2005 Chevron acquired fellow California-based Unocal, whose Thai assets were its most important–and Taureka smoothed their transition into the Chevron fold.
When Chevron’s chief in China retired in mid-2006, Taureka replaced him and was able to hit the ground running, as he’d been working for sometime on regional strategy.
“We were in a head-to-head bid for the acquisition of Unocal with China National Offshore Oil Corporation, with which we had two joint venture offshore operations, so I went to China with some trepidation. But I now enjoy close relations with my CNOOC counterparts.”
Shortly after Taureka’s arrival in China, he led the team that won the tender to develop, with PetroChina, the Chuandongbei “sour gas” fields in Sichuan–the largest foreign involvement in the Chinese oil and gas industry. The government had insisted on the introduction of a foreign operator after an uncontrolled release of sour gas resulted in 200 deaths and forced 5,000people from their homes.
“It’s an amazing project for us.
“We developed a plan and won the tender in less than six months.
“That’s almost the speed of light.
“PetroChina wanted to expedite it too, because of the strong pressure for increased energy supply in China.”
Taureka was able to call on Chevron’s best resources and the company won the contract, for 49% of the project, which involves 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Wells have been drilled, reserves proved, funding arranged and the project is moving into full construction mode.
“We did not think we could do anything in China,” he says, because of potential resentment over the withdrawal of CNOOC’s bid for Unocal in the face of political opposition in the US.
“But the Chinese are pretty practical people, and they appreciated our experience in handling sour gas.
“We have had to prove ourselves, though.
“It’s not just ganbei (the Chinese toast at banquets).
“We’ve taken a very consultative approach.
“We hope to grow in China through o opportunities where we can offer technical advantages and also seek to work with our Chinese partners in the international arena.”
Today, based in a massive office tower in the heart of Beijing, he heads a fast-growing operational business with about 200 staff there and in Tanggu, Shekou and Sichuan.
Taureka says that being Papua New Guinean “provides counterparts, coming from this Asia-Pacific region”.
“When I walk in the door, they tend to think I’m South African or American.
“When I say I’m Papua New Guinean, things loosen up quickly.
“Chevron helped PetroChina drill its first well overseas, in PNG, and such links go a long way.
“PetroChina’s PNG manager then is now vice-president of CNPC, PetroChina’s parent company, and I recently took him to see our deep-water operations in the Gulf of Mexico.”
“It’s been quite an exciting ride,” Taureka says.
He remains a PNG citizen.
But he has become very interested in China and is building an awareness within Chevron of the possibilities of doing business there “across the value chain”.
The company already supplies liquefied natural gas to China out of Australia’s NorthWest Shelf field.
Taureka loves the energy business.
“The numbers are much bigger than most other industries.
“It’s strategic, it’s political.”
He has now recruited six top Chinese graduates– “building homegrown talent” – as he was once groomed in PNG.


  1. Anonymous9:25 PM

    A great man, Esekeli Taureka. He's a real success story coming out of the 'Land of the Unexpected', PNG!

    He's a role model for yound PNGean's out there.

    If he can do it, so can you & I.

    I glow in his success, as a PNGean!

    Congratulations, Isikeli Taureka.

    Amos T. Wama
    Geneva, Switzerland

  2. Keli's example is truly remarkable and one that all young Papua New Guineas should aspire to emulate or outdo.

    A global business amabassador for a global company in a global business environment that has opportunities for other Papua New Guineans.

    Which country in this world teaches it's children how to deal with diversity from birth, which other country teaches it's children how handle the pressure of potentially having to interact with more than 800 diverse cultures languages, attitudes, perceptions all tied together with the strengh of our traditions and customs.

    Knowing how to work with people from varying backgrounds and appreciating each of their individual talents is a Papua New Guineans strength and a standard requirement of being able to work and live globally.

    Keli is doing it, you can too!!

    Isikeli, your dear father would be extremely proud of you today!

    Christopher Taukuro
    Brisbane, Australia

  3. Great man, great ambassador and one we should be all very proud of.
    Congratulations Keli!

    Joycelin Leahy