Low Countries visitors have high hopes for energy

A Dutch-Flemish business delegation is talking oil and gas with the Houston energy community during a three-day trade visit this week.

Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, and Kris Peeters, prime minister of the northern part of Belgium called Flanders, head the delegation of more than 100. They’re in town hoping to forge stronger business ties with Houston and to extend the North American energy revolution to a sometimes-skeptical Europe.

The European leaders said they collected a host of ideas on doing business Houston-style.

At the top of the list was reducing paperwork they said clogs the process in Europe as oil and gas flow downstream from the wellhead to market.

“What we can do in Europe is work on minimizing the red tape and the accumulative administrative burden,” Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, said in an interview.

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He noted that natural gas prices are often several times higher in Europe than in the U.S.

“We can do a lot to increase our competitive position,” he said.

Besides political leaders, the delegation included technology developers, equipment suppliers, logistics experts and others looking for opportunities to provide material and services to Houston-based companies and their global operations.

They met Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Port of Houston officials and representatives of energy powerhouses including Halliburton, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Shell Oil Co., the Houston-based North American arm of Royal Dutch Shell.

At every stop, the delegation asked economic, technical and environmental questions on aspects of the oil and gas business. And they said the shale technology revolution that is pulling natural gas and oil from once-impenetrable formations in the U.S. is shaping business plans throughout Europe.

“We expect a lot of liquid cargo to come from the U.S., and we are already planning ahead to receive those products,” said Bas Hennissen, vice president of industry and bulk cargo for the Port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest.

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For their part, Houston business leaders said they hope the visit will help encourage Europeans to join the shale revolution.

“We want to keep pushing out the message of how successful unconventional development has been in North America and try to help with the development of similar unconventional resources in Europe,” said Eric Carre, senior vice president of drilling and evaluation for Halliburton.

Marvin Odum, Shell Oil Co.’s president, said his company is working to set an example on how to balance natural gas drilling with community concerns.

“The one thing that we know very well about unconventionals is that it has to be done the right way – that it is safe and minimizes any impact to the environment,” Odum told the delegation.

Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, stopped short of calling for a European shale revolution but said the visit helped to distill the environmental and technical issues involved in pursuing a more ambitious drilling strategy.