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Qatar 2014 | ENERGY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Stéphane Michel, Managing Director and representative of Total E&P in Qatar, on the company's long association with Qatar, the country as a center for research, and human capital development.

What is the history of Total in the Qatari market?

Total entered Qatar in 1936, as a shareholder of the Turkish Petroleum corporation (TPAO) at that time. We participated in the discovery of the Dukhan Field. When looking at modern history, Total supported the development of the petrochemical industry in the 1970s, and of the LNG industry in the 1990s. We were indeed a key partner in Qatargas 1 in 1995. Around that same time, we discovered the offshore oil field of Al Khalij, which we have been producing from for 25 years, and which we will be doing for a further 25 years, as we have signed the renewal of our license. Early in the 2000s, we were involved in the Qatargas 2 project, which represents a huge expansion of the LNG capacity of the country, and also the Dolphin Energy project, which was designed to export gas from the North Field to the UAE. Last, but not least, we support the development of the refining industry as a partner of Laffan Refinery 1, and we are now signed on for the Laffan Refinery 2 project as of March 2013. We also have a 25% market share in lubricant distribution. Thus, we are present across the value chain, from offshore operations to distribution.

What do your operations here in Qatar represent in terms of Total's global operations?

Total in Qatar is clearly among the top 10 affiliates of the group.

“Total is keen to seize the various opportunities of development that exist in Qatar."

What does your French background bring to Qatar as a foreign oil company?

Total is one of the top five companies in the world, with cutting-edge technology and a worldwide outreach in more than 130 countries. We are a very international company in the sense that most of our staff members are not French. What we have in common with our partners and competitors is probably more important than our differences. Still, there are some differences that are interesting, like the way we see the world. In terms of marketing, it certainly brings us a good understanding of the European market, and this is important for Qatargas. Also, perhaps the way we do business is a bit different. Then, obviously, there is a special relationship between France and Qatar, and, in particular, between Total itself and Qatar, given that we have been here continuously for 77 years. And together we have forged a remarkable history. We were the first international oil company to help Qatar develop the North Field, the first to join Qatargas, the first to enter the petrochemical industry, a driving force behind Dolphin, and our discovery of Al Khalij was the first big find in 30 years.

What role does Total play as Qatar tries to diversify its downstream products into petrochemicals?

Total is the number one foreign refining and petrochemical company in this country. We are helping Qatar Petroleum (QP) to continue to diversify its downstream activities; both in refining with Laffan Refineries and in petrochemicals with the mixed-feed cracker project. But our support is not only in downstream. To give you an example, we have just signed a deal with Qatar Petroleum International (QPI), which will invest in Total E&P Congo. This is another way to support the country's economic diversification.

In 2009, Total opened a research center in the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP). What role is Total playing in helping Qatar become a center for research excellence?

We have around 20 researchers in that lab, and it is focused mainly on hydrocarbons and petrochemicals. We bring in experts from several headquarters. For example, the group's expert in geochemistry is now in Qatar, and this is useful not only for Qatar, but also for our group. What we like about QSTP is the fact that we can work with companies from different sectors. For instance, we just signed an agreement with QP and Q Analytica, a small start-up, to apply their technology developed for medical purpose to the oil and gas sector. This is a good illustration of what Qatar wants to achieve: cross fertilization between top class companies.

How do you deal with issues related to human capital?

With regard to Qatarization, we are working to develop the skills of Qataris. The population of the country is small, and Qataris are ambitious. To be competitive in the world, they need the best education possible. Based on that analysis, a few years ago we encouraged people from the French business school, HEC—the number one school for executive MBAs in the world—to set up in Qatar. It did so, and is now running an executive MBA program here. There are 40 executives attending this course, from all the big companies, and half of them are Qatari. It has been extremely successful, and without us it would not have been possible. That is an example of how we are helping.

What is your outlook for the Qatari energy sector as a whole, and also for Total's position in the sector?

Qatar has done extremely well in developing its gas potential. It is clear that we are entering now into a new phase for the sector. Exploration has a role to play, and, in terms of oil, the redevelopment of maturing fields is a key issue for QP. In terms of gas, the optimization of the marketing portfolio is important, in order to figure out how to extract more value from this area. The internationalization of QP is also crucial. For the downstream sector, clearly there are a lot of projects that need to be completed. Total is involved in all those challenges; in exploration and in mature field redevelopment as we are supporting QP in the redevelopment of the Bul Hanine field by performing studies. We are also continuously proposing ideas to Qatargas to optimize its marketing portfolio. In downstream, we are the main partner of QP in the Laffan Refinery project.

What are your medium-term strategies and visions for Total Qatar?

Total is keen to seize the various opportunities of development that exist in Qatar. But, as a citizen of this country, we feel the duty to contribute to the Qatar National Vision 2030 and to the development of society and culture. It is not easy but we must find ways to help, such as what we did with the education initiatives. Another example is sport. We have been the sponsor of the Qatar Tennis Federation for 10 years and, looking at how the annual competition has come along from when we started up to now, with Serena Williams becoming champion again here in Qatar, it makes us very proud.

© The Business Year - July 2013