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Woodside May Target LNG Partners in Pursuit of New CEO

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Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Woodside Petroleum Ltd. may try to lure an executive away from Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp., BHP Billiton Ltd. or BP Plc to run the company after Don Voelte steps down as chief this year, analysts said.

Woodside, Australia’s second-largest oil and gas producer, likely wants someone who has worked closely with the company already, David Brennan, an analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets in Melbourne, said by phone today. The four companies are targets because they are Woodside’s partners in the proposed $30 billion Browse gas project in Western Australia, he said.

Voelte, 58 and chief executive officer since April 2004, plans to retire later in 2011 after the A$14 billion ($14.2 billion) Pluto liquefied natural gas venture begins production, Woodside said last year. Woodside in November said the project would be delayed, with the start now scheduled for August.

Grant King, managing director at Origin Energy Ltd., would be a “prize” for Woodside if the company were successful in hiring him away from the electricity and gas retailer, said Xavier Grunauer, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Sydney.

Woodside is considering King and Ann Pickard, head of Shell’s Australian operations, as potential successors to Voelte, the Sydney Morning Herald said today, without citing anyone.

Laura Hammer, a spokeswoman for Woodside, declined in an e-mail to comment. Origin spokeswoman Lina Melero in Sydney said the company wouldn’t comment on “speculation.”

‘Respected’ CEO

Woodside dropped 0.2 percent to A$42.41 at the 4:10 p.m. close in Sydney, compared with a gain of 0.5 percent for the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index. Origin rose 0.6 percent to A$16.42.

Origin’s King “is probably one of the most respected CEOs in the market,” Mark Greenwood, an analyst at Citigroup Inc. in Sydney, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Woodside has a lot of uncommercialized gas” at the proposed Browse and Sunrise ventures “and investors would be confident that Grant King would pursue all avenues to commercialize that gas.”

Roy Krzywosinski runs the Australian business of San Ramon, California-based Chevron. In August, Paul Waterman was named president of BP Australasia. J. Michael Yeager, who is based in the U.S., heads the petroleum division at BHP, Australia’s biggest oil and gas producer.

The Chevron executive and Pickard, of The Hague-based Shell, “have pretty significant portfolios in their own right” and as a result are less likely to leave their posts, Greenwood said.

‘Political Skills’

Woodside will need a new chief with “political” skills after Voelte retires, Grunauer and Brennan said. Woodside has clashed with the government of East Timor over how to develop the Sunrise LNG project and faces opposition to a plan to process the Browse gas at a site in the Kimberley region.

“They need someone to unlock some gates, to move projects forward, someone with political savvy,” Grunauer said.

Woodside hired Heidrick & Struggles to search for a new CEO and hasn’t named potential external replacements or candidates within the company. Lucio Della Martina runs the Pluto project, Kevin Gallagher oversees the North West Shelf venture, and Rob Cole is executive vice president and general counsel.

Claire Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for Shell in Perth, declined in an e-mail to comment. Amanda Buckley, a spokeswoman for Melbourne-based BHP, declined to comment when reached by phone, and Guy Houston, a spokesman for Chevron in Perth, didn’t respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Paton in Sydney jpaton4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Amit Prakash at aprakash1@bloomberg.net.

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