Chen Geng took the job of chairman of PetroChina Co. (PTR ) last year, it was under less than happy circumstances. A gas well accident in late 2003 had killed 243 people, and China's top petroleum company was under attack for lax safety standards. Chen was brought in as an experienced company exec unsullied by the disaster. With no major accidents since he took over, Chen can concentrate on finding new energy resources. The company expects to see 5% growth in reserves this year, to 140 million tons of oil and gas equivalent. Buoyed by soaring demand, PetroChina's sales last year grew 28%, to $47.1 billion, while profits reached $12.5 billion, up a giddy 47.9%. Warren Buffett invests in PetroChina stock, which is up 46% in the past year.
PetroChina produces two-thirds of China's oil and gas, runs more than 15,000 service stations, and last year completed the 4,200-kilometer West-East Gas Pipeline. ``In another five years we will have a pipeline network with a natural gas focus covering [most]of China,'' says Chen, who is also president of parent China National Petroleum Corp. Through a joint venture with CNPC, it has looked for oil and gas in Kazakhstan, Peru, Venezuela, and Indonesia. But as the heated response in the U.S. to China National Offshore Oil Corp.'s bid for Unocal shows, there are challenges ahead. ``Both domestically and internationally we will face fierce competition,'' says Chen. He seems prepared for it.