While 2016 represented the annus horribilis for oil and gas in Australia, 2017 has struck a chord, resonating to an upbeat tempo.
The sector has grown nearly 40% on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in the 12 months ending Jan. 31, albeit out of a very deep hole dating back to January 2016 when Brent crude had fallen to $27.67 per barrel (bbl)—its lowest price in 13 years.
With Brent crude trading in the mid-$50/bbl range, the oil and gas sector has stirred on the ASX with billion-dollar market cap companies leading a recovery with year-on-year growth of 39%, aided by middle-tier companies, which expanded 79%.
But even the juniors and penny stock tadpoles showed signs of life in January, having expanded their market caps by 27% and 15%, respectively.
The star ASX oil and gas performer for 2016 was West-Perth located, but Alaska-focused, 88 Energy. The company’s market cap grew 1,069%, from AU$16 million to AU$185 million, as investors cozied up to the company’s successful Icewine 1 spud that ticked all the boxes of hydrology-cum-unconventional guru Paul Basinski— the Burgundy Exploration principal credited with cracking the Eagle Ford Shale sweetspot for ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP)—and delivered a multibillion barrel best estimates (DeGolyer and MacNaughton: 1 billion Bbbl, 88 Energy: 2.5 Bbbl) treasure trove.
88 Energy’s share price spiked 471% in the last 12 months, representing the biggest oil and gas return on the ASX. Its market cap growth was only bettered by junior Xstate Resources, the Perth-based company that acquired two producing oil and gas fields in the Los Angeles Basin for US$13 million. Xstate’s market cap grew 1,141% from $1 million to $12 million in the 12 months to Jan. 31.
88 Energy’s managing director, David Wall, said the market had reacted favorably to lab core results from the company’s Icewine 1 spud in the first quarter that had proven Basinski’s theory that the well was in the right thermal maturity.
The results delivered another welcome surprise, revealing a volatile oil resource with the right gas to oil mixture (comprising 70% liquids) that favors higher flow rates.
“I think what investors like is that we set out to prove something and we proved it. On the way, having started with 100,000 acres, we picked up another 170,000 acres in between drilling results. So, we backed ourselves and kept moving forward,” Wall said.
In subsequent acreage releases, 88 Energy expanded the joint venture’s (JV) blocks to 690,000 acres (400,000 net to 88 Energy) in an area traversed by a pipeline and from which oil can be trucked 35 miles to feed into a pump station.
Wall has fond memories of 2016, which he describes as “the year of long shots … Many things came in at such long odds and it was a real cracker of a year if you were a bit of a battler.”
At the start of 2017, however, 88 Energy and its JV partners are on the cusp of a seminal moment as they look forward to spudding Icewine 2 in March-April to stimulate the shale and flow test their wares to market.
Success for Icewine 2 has the potential to make 2016’s accelerated market cap growth look pedestrian, with growth that could transform 88 Energy into a half a billion dollar- plus-sized company.
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As long as tariffs on gas remain, traders will be reluctant to commit to deals.