TAQA boss has lofty aspirations

As a youngster in his home country of Holland, Leo Koot was fascinated with the sea and the adventures that might be awaiting him abroad.

It was only by chance, however, that he became involved in the international offshore oil and gas industry.

Aged 18, he was poised to do his mandatory national service where he could have found himself in the Dutch navy.

But, at 6ft 7½in, he discovered he was half an inch too tall to join the armed forces, so he turned his attention to a university degree.

Mr Koot originally wanted to study medicine or oceanography, however, he met two mining students and they changed his mind.

The managing director said: “They were great guys. They convinced me it would be better to study mining engineering. That took me on the path to where I am today.”

After graduating with his masters degree in mining and petroleum engineering from Delft University in Holland, Mr Koot joined Shell and was looking forward to sampling a different lifestyle in a far-flung spot.

Hopes of that were dashed, however, when he was sent just across the North Sea to Lowestoft in East Anglia.

He said: “I may have initially been disappointed with where I was sent, but it turned out to be a very good posting for me.

“Shell was developing their southern North Sea gas fields and there was a lot of activity going on.

“I was able to learn the business inside out offshore and onshore and spent six years in Lowestoft.”

Mr Koot, now 45, later had other postings with Shell including in Namibia and Malaysia.

It was 2000 when he moved to Aberdeen to join Well Dynamics, a joint venture between Halliburton Energy Services and Shell Technology Ventures.

Mr Koot was initially reservoir solutions manager then regional manager for Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. He stayed at WellDynamics for four years before becoming technical director at Energy Development Partners, the Aberdeen-based oil and gas fund-management and project service company.

Mr Koot was there for three years, latterly as chief executive, before joining global energy company TAQA as managing director of its UK-based arm.

The group now has a worldwide asset base of more than £15billion – with a target of £40billion-plus by 2016 – and about 2,800 employees from 41 countries.

The UK is to play a pivotal role in the company’s overall European strategy.

It says the fields of 100million-500mllion barrels in British waters are ideal for its size and scale.

TAQA’s North Sea strategy is focusing on acquiring mature assets, with the benefit of being able to integrate the experienced employees that come with them.

The firm has also said it was looking at business opportunities for at least a further 30 years in the North Sea and could easily be operating there 50 years from now.

When Mr Koot arrived at TAQA, the Aberdeen office only employed a handful of people but numbers are mushrooming.

The north-east workforce now stands at about 90, but TAQA recently moved into a new UK base at Arnhall Business Park, Westhill, which has the capacity to house more than 300 people.

A major milestone will be achieved shortly when it takes control of a package of Shell/ExxonMobil interests in the UK North Sea, including four platforms.

These assets produce about 40,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, with up to 300million barrels of reserves.

No value has been released yet on the deal for these interests in the Tern, Kestrel, Eider, Pelican, Otter, Hudson, Cormorant North and Cormorant South fields plus related infrastructure.

About 130 Shell staff work on the platforms, plus about 500 contractor employees.

Most of the Shell people are expected to transfer to TAQA, while there will be no adverse impact on contractor employee numbers.

Aberdeen-based Wood Group is to provide operating and maintenance services and act as dutyholder for the new assets.

When I visited Mr Koot at the new Westhill base, he said it was a dream to be able to help to set up an oil exploration and production company.

He also said it was an extremely exciting time to be expanding TAQA’s interests in the North Sea.

The managing director added: “There are quite a few distressed companies around; both small and medium-sized ones.

“We are well financed and are well placed to make acquisitions.

“Because of our strong financial rating, we are in a good position to take on abandonment liabilities that many new or small companies can’t.”

TAQA wants to position itself in the North Sea in the area between the majors and the smaller companies.

Mr Koot said that recruitment at TAQA, when it was not known locally, had been initially difficult, adding: “But then the floodgates opened and we have no problems attracting the best people around.

“We are planning to be in North Sea for a long time, and be a big player here, and I think potential recruits obviously find this attractive.”