The chief executive of French oil major Total, Christophe de Margerie, was killed in an airplane collision with a snow plow at Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport, airport spokeswoman Elena Krylova said on Tuesday. “Tonight, a plane crashed when it collided with a snow-clearing machine. Three crew members and a passenger died. I can confirm that the passenger was Total’s head de Margerie,” she said.
The collision occurred during takeoff of the Dassault Falcon business jet in which de Margerie was a passenger late on Monday, just minutes before midnight Moscow time, an airport statement said. The plane was due to travel to Paris. A Total source in Moscow confirmed de Margerie died in a plane crash but offered no further details.
De Margerie, 63, was on a list of attendees at a Russian government meeting on foreign investment in Gorki, near Moscow, on Monday. With his distinctive bushy moustache and outspoken manner, he was one of the most recognizable figures among the world’s top oil executives.
De Margerie, a graduate of the Ecole Superieure de Commerce business school in Paris, became chief executive officer of Total in February 2007, taking on the additional role of chairman in May 2010, after previously running its exploration and production division.
De Margerie said in July that he should be judged based on new projects launched under his watch, such as a string of African fields. He also said then that Total would seek a successor from within the company rather than an outsider.
Philippe Boisseau, head of Total’s new energy division, and Patrick Pouyanne, who was tasked with reducing the group’s exposure to unprofitable European refining sectors, have long been seen as potential successors.
A staunch defender of Russia and its energy policies amid the conflict in Ukraine, de Margerie told Reuters in a July interview that Europe should stop thinking about cutting its dependence on Russian gas and focus instead on making those deliveries safer.
Total is one of the majors most exposed to Russia, where its output will double to represent more than a tenth of its global portfolio by 2020.
A TOP INVESTOR IN RUSSIA
Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia, but its future there grew cloudy after the July 17 downing of a Malaysian passenger airliner over Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russian rebels worsened the oil-rich country’s relations with the West and raised the threat of deeper sanctions.
Total said last month that sanctions would not stop it working on the Yamal project, a $27 billion joint venture investment to tap vast natural gas reserves in northwest Siberia that aims to double Russia’s stake in the fast-growing market for liquefied natural gas. De Margerie said then that Europe could not live without Russian gas, adding that there was no reason to do so.
Total is the fourth largest by market value of the western world’s top oil companies behind Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron. Russia accounted for about 9 percent of Total’s oil and gas output in 2013.
The oil company had forecast in April that Russia would become its biggest source of oil and gas by 2020 due to its partnership with Russian energy company Novatek and the Yamal project.
Total SA is France’s second-biggest listed company with a market value of 102 billion euros.
Like other big oil companies, Total has been under pressure from shareholders to cut costs and raise dividends as rising costs in the industry and weaker oil prices squeeze profitability.