Crunch time for juniors

RESTLESS shareholders are forcing a growing number of junior companies to rethink their business strategies.
Crunch time for juniors Crunch time for juniors Crunch time for juniors Crunch time for juniors Crunch time for juniors


Staff Reporter

April has produced a series of announcements about corporate strategies by junior companies, including Rawson Resources, Dart Energy, Molopo Energy and Cougar Energy.

Georgina Basin shale gas explorer Petrofrontier is also preparing to reveal the outcome of a major strategic review.

In most cases, the pressure for change follows a wake-up call about the actual potential for unconventional energy assets to produce shareholder value.

In the case of Dart and Cougar, the damage was inflicted by anti-development decisions of government.

Molopo has changed tack because of disappointing production performance from its Wolf Camp shale play.

Petrofrontier, meanwhile, has found huge future potential cannot always be converted into cash in the bank today.

While each company has its own set of circumstances, a common theme is emerging: shareholders want their managers to work much harder.

The days are gone when value creation could be left to euphoria about the potential of a shale gas/oil play.

Increasing pressure on oil prices is adding to investor nerves.

Rawson Resources

Sydney-based Rawson is an exception to the pack in that its historical focus has been conventional oil and gas.

The company was founded by John Conolly, a passionate oil explorer who was driven by the science behind opportunities rather than the latest share market fad.

This took the company into some out-of-the way places, where other industry players are starting to see value.

The Rawson board was recently renewed with a mandate from major shareholders to convert the company’s undervalued asset base into a rising share price.

Scott Brownlaw, who was part of the board renewal in December, stepped up this month to take over the chief executive officer position.

The company has moved quickly since December, with the announcement earlier this month that Rawson had sold its 20% interest in EP97 in the Pedirka Basin to Central Petroleum.

EP97 contains a carbonate reef oil play as well as unconventional potential.

While it is an attractive asset and forms part of the Central farm-out to Santos, EP97 is potentially too big for Rawson, which has a market capitalisation of less than $10 million.

Rawson swapped the EP97 interest for 50 million shares in Central Petroleum, making Rawson the second-largest shareholder with a stake valued at about $5.5 million.

Brownlaw said the company had been reviewing its strategy since December and was continuing to work on a new plan for the company.

“We have effectively $11 million cash at the moment, the bulk of which is tied up in shareholdings in Central and Kea Petroleum,” he said.

“We are cashed up. The company has good assets in a number of basins and we are working our way through what the strategy should be.”

Dart Energy

Coal seam gas explorer Dart Energy this month announced it was effectively shutting up shop in Australia and switching its focus to CSG and shale gas properties in the UK.

Chairman Nick Davies placed the blame directly on CSG development decisions by New South Wales and federal governments.

Arrow Energy spin-off Dart’s drastic steps include slashing its global workforce from 165 to 50 people in a bid to preserve the company’s cash resources of about $20 million.

The company’s focus will switch to CSG in Scotland and extensive shale assets in the Bowland Basin in England.

“The company believes that within its portfolio these assets offer the best prospects for near-term value creation, especially given the clear UK government policy promoting the development of the country’s unconventional gas resources,” Davies said.

Molopo Energy

Molopo this month announced a major change of course following disappointing production and higher costs at its Wolfcamp shale oil play in west Texas.

It is the second time in two years that Molopo has recast its strategy.

Back in 2011, the company sold its coal seam assets in Queensland and looked to overseas markets for its future.

The company has scaled back its drilling program at Wolfcamp to a minimum level and has appointed an adviser to find the best way to realise value from the 26,000 net acres in the Wolfcamp play.

Molopo has also effectively put on the market its unconventional assets in Saskatchewan and Quebec.

At the beginning of the year Molopo removed managing director Tim Granger and replaced him with Steve Cloutier after production was lower than the 2100 barrels of oil per day it expected for the end of 2012.

Cougar Energy

Cougar Energy is a third junior to recently announce a change in direction. The company had staked its future on underground coal gasification in Queensland.

However, similar to Linc Energy before it, it was driven away by the government and the CSG industry.

The restructured board of directors believes UCG should remain a core part of the company’s future in Asia but not in Queensland.

The focus in Australia will shift to finding partners which can help Cougar unlock the value of its coal assets by digging them up for export.


Toronto-based Petrofrontier scored a coup last year when it secured Statoil as a partner in its shale oil/gas exploration in the southern Georgina Basin.

Under the deal, Statoil can spend up to $US210 million to earn a 65% interest in six PetroFrontier permits.

It was the biggest farm-in deal to date involving an international company over unconventional targets in Australia.

However, the company’s shareholders baulked at the terms of the deal and have punished the company on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Petrofrontier’s share price has collapsed from $C1.72 a year go to less than $0.25.

The company has been unable to raise cash to funds its share of the costs of the joint venture, which amount to $US25 million in the first phase.

Petrofrontier has appointed a financial adviser to get it out of the dilemma, with possible options ranging from a recapitalisation to an outright sale of the business.

If control changes, Petrofrontier may be the first major victim of a more sober reality settling on the unconventional energy sector.