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Changes To South African Energy Law Could Hurt Majors

South Africa is in the process of making changes to mining and energy laws that would greatly enhance state-control of the emerging nation’s production of resources and
Michael Teague is a staff writer for Equities.com. His previous experience includes three years as the associate editor of Los Angeles-based Al Jadid Magazine, a bi-annual review of the arts & culture of the Middle East, where he contributed many articles on the region in the form of features and book & film reviews. His educational background includes a BA in French literature from the University of California, Irvine, where he developed a startling proclivity for anything having to do with the 19th century.
Michael Teague is a staff writer for Equities.com. His previous experience includes three years as the associate editor of Los Angeles-based Al Jadid Magazine, a bi-annual review of the arts & culture of the Middle East, where he contributed many articles on the region in the form of features and book & film reviews. His educational background includes a BA in French literature from the University of California, Irvine, where he developed a startling proclivity for anything having to do with the 19th century.

South Africa is in the process of making changes to mining and energy laws that would greatly enhance state-control of the emerging nation’s production of resources and commodities.

Amendments to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002 would give the South African government an as-yet undetermined stake in any new oil or gas exploration effort. Furthermore, the changes to the original law are to include a stipulation that would allow the state to appoint two directors to the board of any company searching for energy reserves in the country.

South Africa’s oil industry has lagged behind that of other nations, in no small part as a result of the sanctions and boycotts to which the country was subject prior to its official ending of apartheid in 1994 that deterred a significant amount of foreign investment.

Today, South Africa currently imports 70 percent of its oil, and supplements the remainder with coal and gas. A number of major multinational oil companies have a presence in the country, among which can be counted the usual suspects like ExxonMobil (XOM) and Royal Dutch Shell ($RDS.A), as well as the $30 billion market-cap Sasol Ltd. (SSL) , one of South Africa's largest homegrown producers.

There has been some indication that these companies are pushing back against the efforts of the South African government, however. Russ Berkoben, President of Exxon’s operations in the country, warned an audience of lawmakers on Wednesday that the proposed changes to the country’s resource laws could create a significant “impact on the ability of investors to continue exploration in South Africa,” and send “a message to investors that their high-risk investment will have a much lower reward.”

Anadarko Petroleum’s (APC) local manager in the country, Marek Ranoszek, echoed these sentiments, claiming that investors could reconsider plans to invest much-needed capital into the country’s energy infrastructure. Sasol Ltd., along with a number of domestic producers, mining companies, and business interest groups have also been lobbying against the changes.

The mineral resources committee of the South African parliament commenced a four-day hearing on the issue on Tuesday, but no conclusive indications on the future of the legislative changes was forthcoming.

Shell and Exxon saw shares 1 percent higher in midday trading, while Sasol had declined by a modest 0.3 percent.

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