Keating to urge Conoco to return to Oklahoma

Tuesday, December 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Gov. Frank Keating plans to travel to Houston this week to try to convince officials of Conoco Inc., formerly based in Ponca City, to return to the Sooner State.

Conoco and Bartlesville-based Phillips Petroleum Co. announced Nov. 18 a proposed $15.4 billion merger of the two companies, with headquarters in Texas.

Keating met Friday with Jim Mulva, Phillips' chief executive officer, to ``talk about the value of staying in Oklahoma,'' Keating press secretary John Cox said Monday.

Keating will travel to Houston on Wednesday or Thursday to meet with former Oklahoman Archie Dunham, Conoco's chief executive officer, who is slated to head the merged company.

``So much of the media focus has been on keeping Phillips in Oklahoma, but they are already here,'' Cox said. ``It's really more about getting Conoco to move to Oklahoma. That's why the meeting with Mr. Dunham is so important.''

Conoco officials have shown support for headquartering in Houston and have remained vague about Oklahoma job cuts in U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed this month.

Oklahoma legislators from the Bartlesville area indicated that the meeting between Keating and Mulva lent more support for the idea of a tax reform package working as an incentive to place company headquarters in Oklahoma.

Proposals discussed have called for eliminating all or part of the state income tax, which wealthier executives must pay in Oklahoma, unlike Texas.

Bartlesville-area lawmakers _ Reps. Mike Wilt and Gary Taylor, along with Sen. Jim Dunlap _ are hoping for a special session vote on tax reform that would allow Oklahomans to vote on the matter by August.

While state officials look at tax proposals as a way to lure the ConocoPhillips headquarters to Oklahoma, Dunham and Mulva have said they want top offices in Houston because of Wall Street perceptions, better air travel and increased educational and entertainment options.

The merger's impact on the 2,400 Phillips jobs in Bartlesville and 1,900 at Conoco in Ponca City still is undecided, company officials say.

At least one lawsuit has been filed in Delaware seeking to stop the merger on the grounds that it ``enriches Conoco management at the expense of Conoco public stockholders.''

Conoco officials, in SEC filings, said the merger deal will allow shareholders in each company to simply exchange their current shares for an equal value of the new ConocoPhillips stock.