Ron Bousso on analysis showing Big Oil under pressure to spend
Earlier this month, an in-depth Reuters analysis examined the growing tensions playing out in oil major boardrooms between investors who want them to start spending more to boost depleted reserves and companies’ caution after previous oil price collapses hurt them badly. The story, by correspondent Ron Bousso, reported that for the heads of companies such as BP, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, who have pledged to stick to lower spending after slashing budgets by as much as 50 percent since 2014, the pressure may become hard to resist. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Ron offers a behind-the-scenes look at how he reported the story.
Q. How did you get started on this story?
A. The topic first came about from looking at forecasts of production growth and spending for the Oil Majors. As they emerge from a deep downturn, executives repeatedly vowed not to grow spending and remain thrifty, but in reality, companies rarely do.
Q. What types of reporting were involved?
A. The key was to get hold of senior executives who take part in board meetings and strategy planning to ask them what has changed since the oil prices recovered strongly over the past year. I was looking for concrete examples of pressure rising to spend more. At the same time, I spoke to analysts and investors to see what they thought the companies should do and what they would do in reality.
Q. What was the hardest part of the reporting?
A. Getting sources to tell me about the internal conversation they are having about future plans to invest and grow.
Q. Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A. Although oil companies typically boost spending after a downturn, this time feels different. The three-year long oil price rout left many companies scarred and with the question of the future of fossil fuels looming large, executives and investors are very concerned about the long-term outlook. So signs of loosening discipline and higher spending are a vital indication of things to come.
Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?
A. As journalists we are privileged to scrutinize companies, governments and organizations like no one else in order to expose their activities from an independent perspective. That gives us access to fascinating people, businesses and stories that few can witness so closely.
Q. What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A. I cover the world’s biggest oil companies, focusing on Shell and BP but also looking at the broader sector. The world of oil companies brings together geopolitics, big money, environment and other topics that have a real impact on our day-to-day lives and which fascinate me.
Q. Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A. Well, I have a real passion for music and spend a lot of time playing guitar, but that’s a life I chose not to pursue a long time ago…