Abstract Art

In 1991 I had left employment and was running my own practice, but was concerned that I had no international experience. It was hard to see why anyone should offer me international work.

In 1993 a consortium of the world’s major oil companies was negotiating for exploration rights in the Caspian Sea, in the area claimed by the newly independent Kazakhstan.

The seven companies involved were unable to agree which of them should lead the legal subcommittee, so they hired me, despite my lack of international experience.

It was a great opportunity and also, as a friend graphically put it, “a chance to muff it in front of the world’s largest oil companies.”

At first I was all at sea. The legal, commercial and political certainties that I was used to in the North Sea were no longer there.

The negotiation moved to New York, and one evening I went out with Frans, a canny and experienced lawyer from Shell. We took the Circle Line cruise round the Statue of Liberty, watching the lights of New York with some hot dogs and a few beers.

I was open with Frans about the difficulties I was having, and told him that I was thinking of heading back to the North Sea post haste.

“Do you like art?” he asked me unexpectedly.

“Yes, I do,” I replied, “though I am no expert." 

“What kind of art do you like?”

 “Classical art, mainly, Titian, Rembrandt, that sort of era.”

“What about modern art?” I had to admit that modern art meant little to me.

“I think of it this way,” he said, “domestic transactions are like classical art. It is easy to work out what is going on. But a place like Kazakhstan is like modern art. It is hard to know what is going on, and you do not have your familiar markers. You have to rely on your feelings.”

 This was one of the best pieces of professional advice I ever received, and it changed my whole view of the transaction and the international arena.

We succeeded with the negotiation, and ten years later this resulted in the discovery of the giant Kashagan Field. Professionally I never looked back.


See also: Red Rag

Chris Thorpe

Chris Thorpe is a respected independent lawyer in the upstream oil and gas industry, and an established lecturer and author. Chris has a LLB in law from Magdalene College, Cambridge and trained as a barrister in London. He worked for eight years' as an in-house lawyer for BP and Marathon. Since 1991, Chris has run his own upstream legal practice, CPTL, which has acted for many upstream clients. He has extensive experience of international upstream transactions, principally in the North Sea, the FSU, Africa and the Middle East. Chris has spoken at many UK and International Conferences and Seminars, both public and in-house. His most popular current lecture is Fundamental of Upstream Petroleum Agreements, a two-day course with accompanying book.