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A Comparative History of National Oil Companies


Edited By Alain Beltran

Oil is undoubtedly rather more than a mere hydrocarbon. It is a development factor, an essential element in energy balances, a strategic weapon, a resource characterized by unequal distribution, and also by unequal consumption. For more than a century now, it has showed its importance, whether during periods of crisis, or at times of strong growth.
Under such circumstances, few countries have allowed mere market laws to operate freely. Whether visible or discreet, the hand of the State has been present in many cases, depending on different purposes and taking various forms. Hence national companies developed, if only in order to deal with the Majors and their greatly feared power. One finds examples of national companies both in Western Europe and in certain developing countries that have substantial resources on their soil. Those companies did not all experience the same destiny, but they have sometimes influenced the rules of the oil game.
The colloquium held in Paris in 2003 («National oil companies: history, characteristics, comparisons from the inter-war period to the end of the 20 th century») provided some new facts and viewpoints in connection with this history, still relatively unknown.
You will read contributions here from various horizons making it possible to illuminate the present and the near future, since oil industry issues continue to challenge the world.


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PART II STATE AND ITS METHODS ABOUT OIL ISSUES 93 SN REPAL, CFP and “Oil-Paid-in-Francs”1 Samir SAUL Montréal University, Québec, Canada On the world oil scene, the adjective “national”, when combined with the noun “company”, is ambiguous. A “multinational” or “transna- tional” firm, such as ExxonMobil, retains a national identity that is easy to recognise insofar as its shareholders and its executive staff come mainly from one country, its head office and its decision-making centres are located in that country, and its corporate culture developed within a specific national framework. As to the nationalised companies, they represent an unambiguous model: a company such as SONATRACH is eminently national, because it belongs to the State and is responsible for a mission laid down by the authorities. Total is a special case because it reflects both the private and the state models. Created in its initial form in 1924 at the initiative of the French government to meet national needs, it is a private business enjoying no monopoly and subject to the market’s rules of competition. Its recent development has been marked by four characteristics: 1. the State’s withdrawal starting in 1992 expanded the share of its capital allocated to private, national, international and institutional shareholders; 2. from merger to merger, it has become de facto the only French oil com- pany integrated from well (upstream) to pump (downstream) and including chemicals; 3. although it is dominant on the French market, it holds no exclusive rights and its field...

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