Arctic beckons for Shell's Pickard

Ann Pickard, who has transformed Royal Dutch Shell into the most aggressive oil and gas player in Australia, is set to leave her powerful Perth-based post to look after the Anglo-Dutch giant's ambitions in the Arctic Circle.

Shell is thought to have informed staff overnight that the well-regarded Ms Pickard would quit Perth in June and move to the US, most likely Houston, to take up a newly created role as executive vice-president, Arctic.

The new role reflects Shell's view that Ms Pickard is well suited to tackling the myriad technical and environmental challenges of operating in the Arctic Circle, based on her track record in Australia and before that Nigeria. Shell, which is due to report its first-quarter profit result on Thursday, yesterday would not comment on Ms Pickard's move.

Ms Pickard took up the role of head of Shell's Australian upstream business just over three years ago and within months added the role of country chair, cementing Perth's position as the new national capital of oil and gas.

She set about transforming Shell's presence in Australia from being best known as a downstream owner of refineries and service stations with a big stake in Woodside Petroleum to the industry's most aggressive upstream operator.

On her watch Shell introduced the world to floating LNG processing and she and her team lobbied strongly against plans for the Woodside-led Browse joint venture to build a gas processing plant at James Price Point. Instead, Ms Pickard urged for FLNG as the development option, which would further strengthen Shell's hand in Australian upstream business.

Ms Pickard also oversaw an overhaul and refining of Shell's upstream portfolio, including taking part in the Chevron-led Wheatstone development (the 6.4 per cent project stake is now up for sale) and introducing Inpex into Prelude.

She will be succeeded by Andrew Smith, who serves as Shell's Australia downstream boss and has overseen restructuring the company's refineries.

Mr Smith will move from Melbourne to Perth and work alongside Ms Pickard's deputy upstream boss Peter Robinson.