Cairn Energy vows to continue Greenland operations


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The Independent Online

The chairman and founder of oil explorer Cairn Energy vowed today to continue operations off the coast of Greenland despite unsuccessful drilling in the region causing a $1.1 billion (£693 million) last year.

Sir Bill Gammell said the Edinburgh-based firm was "convinced that all of the ingredients for success" were present in Greenland, despite a $942 million(£594 million) charge for unsuccessful exploration costs in 2010 and 2011.

Cairn, which launched its campaign in Greenland in 2007, will switch its focus to a licence in the Baffin Bay area of offshore Greenland in 2012 with Norwegian explorer Statoil, which is a 30% partner in the block.

The group saw shares rise 2% as it reported profit after tax of $4.6 billion (£2.9 billion) in the year to December, compared with £1.1 billion the previous year, after it sold a 40% stake in its Cairn India subsidiary to miner Vedanta Resources.

Cairn currently operates 11 blocks in offshore Greenland, with a combined area of 102,000 sq km.

Cairn's activities in Greenland have attracted criticism from environmental groups such as Greenpeace, for the impact on the Arctic and also the lack of value delivered to shareholders.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace activists stormed Cairn's Greenland drilling platform and in June occupied its offices in Edinburgh in protest at the programme.

Shares have fallen 27% in the last year as Cairn revealed it had failed to make any commercial discoveries in the region.

Simon Hawkins, analyst at Singer Capital, said although the company has been unable to celebrate any commercial success it has "significant data that it is now processing".

Elsewhere, the company was awarded two exploration permits in Spain in January 2011, which cover five blocks in the Gulf of Valencia.

Later this year, Cairn will bid for exploration opportunities in offshore Lebanon and Cyprus.

In January, a £2.5 million shares windfall for Sir Bill was withdrawn by Cairn amid shareholder pressure.

The former Scottish international rugby player was due to receive the options as reward for helping to bring about the company's sale of its stake in its Indian operations.

Sir Bill founded the business in the early 1980s and was chief executive from the company's stock market listing in 1988 until June last year, when he became non-executive chairman. He was awarded a knighthood in 2006 for services to industry in Scotland.

Ben Ayliffe, from Greenpeace, said: "Cairn Energy's luckless pursuit of oil in the Greenland Arctic has delivered zero barrels and a handful of dry holes at a price of over one billion US dollars.

"With such misplaced optimism in drilling one of the planet's most challenging and pristine environments, it's little wonder the company has been dropped from the FTSE 100 and is selling off chunks of its licence blocks to balance the books.

"This wasn't the polar dream investors were sold and Cairn's ongoing travails should serve as a stark warning to anyone else thinking that Arctic oil is a money-spinner."