A Well of Offshore Experience

Stacy Feltham’s years of international deepwater expertise in the oil industry have made her uniquely qualified to guide BHP’s entry into new markets, including a big new field in Mexico

Stacy Feltham, Associate General Counsel and Head of Legal, BHP Petroleum Photo by Felix Sanchez

Stacy Feltham was in the right place at the right time for a future in the petroleum industry. A native Newfoundlander, she began her legal career at a law firm  in St. John’s, in 1996, right at the start of production for the booming offshore Hibernia oil field. When she earned her MBA in 2001 and began to pursue in-house work, an exciting opportunity was waiting for her right there on the Grand Banks. “I was quite familiar with the industry then, if not from a legal perspective,” Feltham says. “On top of that, I always liked the idea of working with a big international company and the complex issues that come along with it.”

Fifteen years after taking her first industry role as the sole counsel for ExxonMobil’s Hibernia Project, Feltham has amassed a wealth of expertise through projects she has supported that have taken her from Europe to Kazakhstan to Alaska, Africa, and many places in between. Her most recent work has been for Australian resources company BHP, which she joined in 2013 and where today she serves as associate general counsel and head of legal for BHP Petroleum, based in Houston. Her international team includes lawyers in Australia, Mexico, and the US, and it supports operations and assets in eight countries. “I had the opportunity to step in and manage a team at a diverse multinational company, where my deepwater petroleum background would be an asset,” Feltham says. “Since then, I haven’t looked back.”

In 2016, her years of international experience again put her in the right place at the right time, when major energy reforms in neighboring Mexico opened the country up to foreign investment for the first time in eighty years—including in its newly discovered deepwater resources. Feltham was able to help BHP secure the winning bid for the Trion deepwater field, which it now co-owns with Mexico’s state-owned oil company, PEMEX. And since then, she has worked to help the company navigate the unique concerns of the highly anticipated project. “It’s been a huge challenge and a really interesting piece of work,” Feltham says. “This was a whole new world for BHP—a whole new country with a new set of laws that we had to learn and understand.” The project involves many firsts: BHP is one of the first foreign investors in Mexico’s newly deregulated oil and gas industry, it is PEMEX’s first deepwater co-venture partner, it is drilling the first foreign-operated well in Mexico’s deepwater region, and it is hoping to make history with PEMEX with the first deepwater development in Mexico.

The legal journey started for Feltham well before the bid was secured, in part because of Mexico’s atypical bidding process. In the initial stages, the country made it known that it would be opening its petroleum resources to foreign investment; companies were then invited to submit questions and commentary on the published license and operating agreement terms on offer, which were addressed in a transparent, open forum. Once the terms were finalized, interested companies were then invited to submit bids on available acreage.

Fortunately, Feltham’s many years spent working with similar agreements gave her an edge. “Having experience in that area, I could identify investment terms that would be workable for international oil companies and, in those terms, what would be the upside for my company and the country,” Feltham says. “And we were able to receive terms that we were comfortable with.”

Feltham next set about navigating the challenges of BHP actually entering the new country, starting with trips down to Mexico City to meet with PEMEX. “One of the things I learned early in my career was the value of getting to know your client and the value of relationships,” Feltham says. “So we put a lot of effort into getting to know our counterparts and making sure we understood their expectations.”

She also set about assembling a team, pulling together both internal and external lawyers who could understand the issues. One of her first moves—and, Feltham says, one of the smartest—was hiring a lawyer in Mexico to join her legal department. “We’ve spent a lot of time meeting with regulators in Mexico City to work out details and understand issues,” Feltham says. “Having a local person helping inside the company has been significant. He is an important complement to our strong outside counsel support.”

From there, she was able to assist with opening up an office in Mexico and manage her team while making sure its work was aligned with the company. “A lot of that has been issue spotting, risk management, and making sure that everyone is aligned on the steps we are taking,” Feltham says. Juggling time zones, she worked to make sure both Houston stakeholders and Australian management were informed and engaged at all steps of the process.

Though in its early days, the venture is now off to a promising start. In January, BHP struck oil at its first appraisal well in the offshore Trion oil field. Feltham has been proud to support the business, she says, and she’s also proud to be managing a team that has been able to support her so well. “Being able to open our Mexico office in an efficient and rapid way is a real source of pride,” she says,

She adds that another of the most satisfying parts of her job has been having the ability to mentor and manage people. It’s an interest that ties into her personal passion for giving back, which she also fuels by engaging with the arts as a board member of Houston’s Stages Repertory Theatre.

Today, Feltham is confident in calling BHP’s Mexico venture a success, and she’s starting the process all over again—this time off the east coast of Canada, where last November, BHP won another bid for deepwater drilling. Her external partners are excited to work with her there. “Working with Stacy Feltham and her team at BHP, in helping them navigate a new market position in Newfoundland and Labrador, has been a pleasure,” says Stephanie Hickman, QC, a partner with Cox & Palmer. “Stacy understands the complexities of the ever-changing petroleum industry and has the leadership and knowledge to lead her team to deliver results for BHP as they venture into Atlantic Canada. Cox & Palmer is delighted to work with BHP and provide our local expertise in the oil and gas industry. It is a privilege to work with Stacy at this dynamic time for the energy industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Feltham is looking forward to the work, too. “I’m extremely excited about this project, both because it’s exciting for the company and because it’s exciting to return to my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador,” Feltham says, adding that she’s proud to have chosen her first job so well. “I’ve come full circle.”