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Astute Heavey avoided high-risk pitfalls of industry

NEWS of yet another gas find for Tullow Oil is a reminder that the company set up by former Aer Lingus accountant Aidan Heavey is still going from strength to strength.

Over the past 25 years, Heavey has grown Tullow from literally nothing into one of the largest independent operators in the global oil business.

Starting out as an accountant with Tullow Engineering, Heavey persuaded his bosses, the Nolan family, to help fund an exploration company. The engineering business came and went, but Tullow Oil mushroomed.

From its early efforts looking for gas in Castlecomer, through a World Bank-funded project in Senegal to the purchase of BP's gas assets in the North Sea, Tullow has grown steadily, avoiding the high-risk projects that have been the undoing of most Irish oil explorers.

Today, the company has assets spanning Europe, Asia and Africa, but the most exciting reserves are in Uganda and Ghana where the company has made massive finds.

Since his days as an undergraduate at UCD, Heavey was convinced that some day he would get stuck in to the oil industry. And with the astuteness of a trained accountant, he set about the task in a practical and conservative manner. By building a track record with the Department of Energy during the Castlecomer project, Tullow was able to bid for the World Bank project in Senegal, using this as a base to expand into other locations, eventually taking on big exploration projects itself in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and later Africa where the company really began to move into the big time.

Heavey seems to have a knack for recruiting very competent and dedicated staff, and one of the features of Tullow is that people stay a long time -- several of his staff have been there for the greater part of the company's existence, which is unusual in a highly mobile industry such as exploration. This is one of the reasons he cherishes the independence of Tullow -- it helps in attracting and keeping good people.

Over the years, Heavey has shown considerable tenacity, particularly when faced with multinational majors who can draw on considerable political clout in their bid to reap the best acreage.

WikiLeaks shows that Tullow lobbied hard when it believed that rivals were using their clout.

While Uganda and Ghana are the jewels in Tullow's crown, there is evidence of oil and gas in Kenya and Tanzania as well -- further signs that we all have to slowly change our ideas about what countries produce and consumer oil and gas.

Irish Independent