“It would be a question of the utmost public concern if an undercover officer were effectively permitted to operate without justification, authorisation or oversight in Ireland.”
The Australian investment giant nicknamed the “vampire kangaroo” is hoping to sink its teeth into Ireland’s £3bn Corrib gas field.
Macquarie, one of the largest owners of British infrastructure, is understood to have approached Shell over a deal that could value the FTSE 100 giant’s 45% stake in the project at more than £1bn. It is unclear whether the Australians have tabled a formal bid.
Corrib started producing a year ago after years of delays and protests from fishermen, environmentalists and locals.
The project, located 50 miles off the northwest coast of Ireland, involved laying miles of pipe that feed into the national gas network. It was the subject of a 2010 documentary called The Pipe. At full capacity, Corrib could provide over half of Ireland’s gas needs.
Shell is understood to have put its stake up for auction as part of the $30bn (£23.5bn) asset sale programme launched last year. The energy giant is paying down debt it took on to fund the blockbuster takeover of rival BG.
One complication from the deal would be who would run the field if Shell, the current operator, sells out. The other owners are Statoil, Norway’s state oil giant, and Vermillion Energy Trust of Canada.
The field began pumping gas at the end of last year, which has made it attractive to Macquarie. The Sydney-based giant specialises in infrastructure investment, with stakes in the M6 toll road and Thames Water, Britain’s biggest water utility. The company’s investment funds often use large amounts of debt, sometimes from finance vehicles they control, to fund its purchases.
Because interest is tax-deductible, Macquarie can minimise the cash it pays to the exchequer. Its skill at maximising returns while minimising tax has led critics to dub it the “vampire kangaroo” — a play on Goldman Sachs’s “vampire squid” moniker.
Macquarie and Shell both declined to comment.