“There’s no place like home” may have been a phrase made famous by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but it’s also become a rally cry for oil and gas companies in Australia. The globetrotting Cooper Energy has gone back to where it all began. The company was founded and listed in 2002 on a focused strategy of exploring the Cooper Basin in northeastern South Australia. Early exploration and production success helped Cooper rove around the world before a 2011 strategic review saw the company return to its Australian roots. The small-cap oil producer is redeploying effort toward the Cooper, Otway, and Gippsland Basins since relinquishing its Romanian and Polish interests and derisking its oil discovery in Tunisia prior to divestment. Cooper Energy’s managing director, David Maxwell, is the force behind the company’s decision to increase its participation to the eastern Australian gas market, where prices are expected to rise as major LNG projects in Gladstone suck the region dry.
“What we’re focused on now is growing where we’re strong, the Cooper, Otway and Gippsland Basins, with a view to building a good oil and gas business,” Maxwell said. “In two to three years’ time, we’d like to think there will be a material increase in oil production, that there were gas developments underway and we’ve got a portfolio of gas buyers.”
Maxwell loves it when a plan comes together. On Jan. 17, the company announced its highest-ever interim profit, recording net profit after tax of AUS$13.6 million for the half-year ended Dec. 31.
Strike Energy is another cashed-up Australian small-cap that has discovered there is no place like home. Strike provides exposure to the Eagle Ford Shale play in the United States, but it is a deep coalseam gas play in the Cooper Basin, where the company’s attention is squarely focused. Strike has seven petroleum exploration permits in the Southern Cooper Basin, covering a gross position of 15,000 square kilometers. The acreage is ideally positioned to supply the eastern and southern Australian gas markets, with open-access pipelines passing through and near the permits. Strike has since concentrated its attention on its largest and highest-equity Cooper permit, PEL96. The company conducted a AUS$9.2 million capital raising in August to fund the start of exploration activities within the permit, which has an estimated gas resource of up to 6.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). And it’s not just the small-caps that are falling back in love with Australia. Aussie major Santos--South Australian Northern Territory Oil Search—is again living up to its name, after redirecting its focus away from exotic international locales to South Australia and the Northern Territory. Ahead of cutting the ribbon on its Gladstone LNG plant next year, Santos is cutting forging tracks in its old stomping grounds, the Cooper and Amadeus Basins, and the McArthur Basin in Australia’s Top End. While it continues to search far-flung places such as Egypt and Tanzania, Beach Energy is driving most shareholder value from its Australian assets. The largest net oil producer in the Cooper Basin is also a leading participant in the emerging Australian shale gas sector with an active joint venture with Chevron.
“Beach Energy is a strongly leveraged play to the evolving Cooper Basin production theme, particularly in oil growth but also to the East Coast gas supply opportunity. With expected participation in more than 120 wells through FY2014, there will likely be almost continuous drilling, re-rating events and the potential for significant reserves growth from both conventional oil and gas, and the unconventional gas assets,” said RBC Capital’s Andrew Williams.
Bathed in sunshine and swept along by favorable market winds blowing from Australia’s East Coast, Beach is rediscovering, like its petroleum peers, that in Australia life really is a beach.
Gareth Quinn, Special to Hart Energy
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