The new global hotspot in the oil and gas business isn’t US shale gas, or Queensland’s coal seam gas industry. It’s the vast untapped resources of offshore oil and gas in East Africa.
It’s been tagged ‘elephant country’ and not because of the local mammals with ivory tusks and big ears. It’s all to do with the discovery of huge energy reserves off the coasts of Tanzania, Mozambique and, potentially, Kenya. Opportunities are hot for small exploration companies to identify more assets that can be tapped and developed.
What’s remarkable is how little action this part of the world has seen until now. For a long time a combo of low commodity prices and high risk shut out the East Africa region from any exploration or investment at all.
Kris Sayce pointed out in Australian Small Cap Investigator that until recently, for every seventy wells drilled over the rest of Africa, only one was drilled in the east. That makes it one of the last regions of relatively unexplored territory left in the world.
But that’s changing faster than the time Michael Phelps takes to swim to the other end of the pool. The race is on to find new energy reserves to replace current production and increase output to meet the huge rising demand in Asia.
Remember, all the cheap and easy oil fields have been in production for a long, long time. Oil companies have to find new supplies, often in more remote, riskier and more expensive places.
The risks are high — but fortunately, so are the rewards…
Low-Cost African Oil and Gas
Threatens Aussie Energy Dominance
Threatens Aussie Energy Dominance
The reason for the excitement in East Africa is down to the success of early drilling.
Diggers and Drillers editor, Dr. Alex Cowie told his subscribers this week:
‘The success rate in this region is outstanding. To provide some context, oil and gas exploration typically has a success rate just 10-20%. That’s terrible when you think about. It can cost $50 million to sink an offshore well, and the chance of making a financial return could be as low as one in ten.
‘But East Coast African energy exploration stands out from the crowd because in all but a few cases they hit oil or gas. To be exact — the success rate has been 87%. A strike rate of close to 9 out of 10 is almost unheard of.’
This is attracting the interest of the big energy majors. And shareholders in the London-listed Cove Energy (LON: COV) don’t need to be told about the success in the region. The Cove share price has gained over 1000% in three years mainly thanks to its assets in Mozambique.
Global energy giant Royal Dutch Shell this year made a bid for the explorer, only to be trumped by Thai firm PTT Exploration & Production. After withdrawing its offer for Cove, Shell is now rumoured to be in talks with American company Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC), which has an even larger stake in the same gas reserve and plans to develop an export facility to supply Asia.
This has got Australia’s natural gas industry worried, despite East Africa’s current lack of production and infrastructure. On Thursday, the Australian Financial Review ran the headline: ‘Woodside warns of East Africa rivalry’. The story notes:
‘Woodside Petroleum chief executive Peter Coleman has sounded another warning about the competitive threat from rapidly emerging gas hubs overseas that is increasing pressure to rein in costs in Australia’s liquefied natural gas sector.
‘He pointed in particular to East Africa, where discoveries in Tanzania and Mozambique by companies including BG Group, ENI and Anadarko Petroleum have spawned proposals for LNG export ventures that will target customers in Asia.’
Asian countries could source their energy from Africa and cut out the volatile Middle East and higher cost producers like Australia.
Huge Opportunity for Oil Explorers
The subdued oil price in recent times has seen major oil companies rein in their frontier exploration and consolidate their existing projects and revenue. This has created opportunities for smaller, aggressive companies to find new reserves. Cath Norman, managing director of small oil and gas explorer, FAR Ltd (ASX: FAR), said in a recent interview:
‘The larger companies are doing very little frontier exploration at the moment; they’re relying on the smaller companies, with a view to buying back in later. The larger companies will always have a need to replace their reserves and increase their inventories, and they’re really dependent on companies like us to do that for them.’
It’s a huge opportunity for exploration companies to get in early and capitalise on the growth. One benefit is they’re not especially sensitive to short term movements in the oil price because they don’t have any revenue. An oil producer does — and any downward shift in the oil price effects their profit. But shares don’t come much riskier than oil explorers.
The good news for investors is that the energy business can rise without depending on a rising economy. That might sound strange because oil often falls on slack demand. But the other question is always supply.
During the 1970′s, a troubled decade frequently cited as similar to today, the oil price rose over fifteen times in price per barrel despite ‘stagflation’ and a bear market in bonds and stocks.
The long-term trends for the energy business are bullish, as Asian demand continues to rise and existing producers struggle to maintain supply. That’s good news for some oil and gas stocks, especially for frontier energy explorers.
Editor, Money Weekend
The Most Important Story This Week…
Since peaking last year at just under fifty dollars an ounce, silver has declined almost 50%. That’s a big correction. But it is not unusual for commodities to suffer drops in a long term bull market. Even big markets such as oil and gold have seen declines of 30% or more in the last decade before going higher.
Silver has been range bound between $27 and $37 since October last year. Money Morning editor Dr. Alex Cowie says the floor may have been hit for the precious metal. This is especially true if the central bankers turn to printing money in the next quarter. See what he says in Silver Bounces Off Key Level, Where’s it Going Next?
Other Recent Highlights…
Kris Sayce on How No ‘Plan B’ For The Australian Economy Could Boost Aussie Stocks: “But where’s the Australian economy’s Plan B? Plan A is to sell lots of stuff to China…lots of resources. What if that plan doesn’t last as long as the mainstream hopes? Already Ken Henry’s claim that the resources boom would last until 2050 is looking a bit shaky. So what happens next?”
Matthew Partridge on Central Banks Are Buying Gold – Is This a Sign to Sell?: “Gold’s suffered something of a lull in recent months. Combined with the fact that central banks – never great market timers – became net buyers last year for the first time in decades, it’s worth asking if their interest in the yellow metal is a sign to the rest of us to get out.”
John Stepek on The Biggest Threat to the US Economy: “Unless a deal on spending and taxes can be reached by the end of the year, massive spending cuts will take place. This is the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ that everyone seems terrified of plunging over. Yet US shares have been surprisingly resilient so far. Can this continue? Or should you be looking to invest elsewhere?”
Dr. Alex Cowie on How Low Natural Gas Prices Are Causing Energy Havoc: “Australia is sitting on almost 4 times as much shale gas as conventional natural gas. Argentina’s and China’s shale gas reserves dwarf those in the US. The US isn’t exporting its gas yet, but the falling gas price is still having a huge effect on us in other ways.”
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Written by Callum Newman
Callum Newman is editor of the Money Morning weekend edition and co-editor of Port Phillip Publishing’s subscribers-only email Scoops Lane. (To have Money Morning delivered straight to your inbox you can subscribe for free here).
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