Factoring in oil for the Oil Search equation

OIL Search, one of the best performing stocks on the Australian Stock Exchange for several years, now has a trifecta of opportunities, each of which have potential as significant company building blocks. By Wantok

Arguably the most advanced is the Taza-1 prospect in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. The successful wildcat well has made an oil discovery and an appraisal drilling program is getting underway. Taza could potentially yield 250-500 million barrels of oil, in line with pre-drill estimates.

Proving up of this potential would bring a new dimension to Oil Search as the first significant offshore production prospect. It could significantly lift the company's oil production and provide the first cash flow from production in its Middle East and North Africa zone of operation.

The second new opportunity is presented by a new gas play in the Gulf of Papua. This follows the successful discovery of gas at Flinders-1, raising hopes of finding enough additional gas for a standalone LNG project with its latest global partner, Total.

At present, targets in the Gulf of Papua appear to be of a size of around 1 tcf or more so that several such discoveries at Flinders and the current Kagara wildcat will be needed to underpin a standalone LNG project.

Falling short of that there is still the possibility of supplying gas to the PNG LNG Project, which will now be focusing on the possibility of adding third and fourth and trains with likely availability of gas from Elk-Antelope and from P'nyang.

ExxonMobil has confirmed there is room at Konebada for a fifth train if there is sufficient gas and that remains within the realm of possibility in the next couple of years. Such an eventuality would make PNG a truly global player in the LNG business.

As good a bet as Taza-1 is the ongoing options study for development of P'nyang. The result will be known by the end of this year and, as mentioned earlier, there is probably enough gas here for a third train at Konebada.

New seismic is being shot in P'nyang, pointing to further upgrading potential beyond the current 2.5-3 tcf estimate, as well as new seismic over Juha, which is more easily accessible than P'nyang.

The third corporate opportunity for Oil Search seems to have come from left field. The not so spectacular SE Mananda discovery, for which the stunning bridge across Hegigio Gorge had to be built, is now showing great promise, particularly if oil prices continue to hold up well in coming years.

The recently completed Mananda-5 well could be producing somewhere around 15,000 barrels/day by 2015. It has now been announced that Manada-6, some 10km from the original production well at Southeast Manada, is being being tested as a discovery that could also bring in some respectable production.

There has been significant speculation in some foreign media, led particularly by the Wall Street Journal, that Oil Search is a takeover target of particular interest to Woodside Petroleum. Woodside CEO Peter Coleman knows the PNG LNG Project as well as anyone inside or outside the project.

As a result of this speculation, the Oil Search share price hit a record $A8.46 recently before pulling back.

It is also part of the reason why Oil Search is reportedly anxious about the 15% stake in the company held by the PNG government's Independent Public Business Corporation, which is subject of an ‘exchangeable bond' agreement with Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund, the International Petroleum Investment Corporation or IPIC.

IPIC is scheduled to take control of the share parcel early next year and some news reports have suggested corporations eyeing Oil Search as a takeover target would get a significant foothold by purchasing the IPIC stake.

But Wantok would like to think Oil Search is actually worth considerably more than its 29% direct stake in the PNG LNG Project that makes it the subject of takeover speculation.

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