ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips leave Venezuela over oil dispute

Say what you will about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the guy knows how to keep things interesting. Tired of multinational oil companies having all the fun in his resource-rich country, he has pushed for state control of the Orinoco Belt, the largest energy reserve in the Western Hemisphere; the area holds an estimated 260 billion barrels of extractable crude. Four companies, including Chevron and BP, agreed to minority stakes in their own operations, but two big guys — ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips — backed out. The departure leaves Exxon with no Venezuelan ventures, although it is still negotiating the terms of its exit; ConocoPhillips, which will write off its $4.5 billion interest in Orinoco, will stay involved in an offshore gas operation. Analysts predict that giving big companies the boot will mean a long-term loss for Venezuela, but leaders don’t see it that way. “For us, there are no costs,” says Rafael Ramirez, the country’s oil minister. “We gain national sovereignty.”