Jersey Oil & Gas Plc (LON:JOG) could become the next North Sea oil junior with a significant asset, ambitious plans and aspirational confidence to lead a field development project.
Typically, the market has come to expect AIM’s natural resource firms take a backseat once project’s get to the nitty-gritty business of implementation, but, for several reasons – both micro-and-macro -more and more juniors are taking big projects on.
It is hard to imagine that Jersey’s ‘Plan A’ could’ve been anything other than hitch-up the Buchan project up to Equinor - the Norwegian oil major has been the lead on the partner’s Verbier discovery in the next door licence – as it was given an option to take 50% in the new project.
Many investors likely assumed Equinor’s participation would be a foregone conclusion given that Buchan was pitched by Jersey as a production ‘hub’ for both its own resources and smaller nearby discoveries.
The news of Equinor’s snub came, either by fortune or design, alongside a new third-party assessment of the ‘Greater Buchan Area’ with contractor Rockflow estimating close to 100mln barrels of technically recoverable crude (a mid-case estimate of 94.7mln barrels, to be precise).
That Equinor wouldn’t commit to this nearby development opportunity, with ‘tie-back potential’, perhaps raises questions about its internal outlook for Verbier which is now viewed at a smaller-than-previously-expected 25lm(ish) barrels.
Verbier has been estimated at up to 130mln barrels before a disappointing appraisal well result in the Spring pegged the resource back substantially.
Jersey emphasized, in its statement, that its partner “will continue its efforts to mature and assess the opportunities” in the adjacent (Verbier) licence area, and, it would work closely with Jersey to maximise economic recovery in the area.
Responding to the news chief executive Andrew Benitz was a bullish as one would expect an AIM oil executive to be in such circumstances.
“Their decision not to exercise the option provides JOG with greater flexibility, control and the full value potential of this very exciting new area development project, which based on our estimates of discovered oil volumes has the potential to be the largest new area hub in the UK Central North Sea since Golden Eagle,” he said.
Benitz further promised that Jersey would now advance its appraisal and development planning efforts for the Greater Buchan Area.
He said the company would work to select the best available development concept and consider seeking a farm-out partnership ahead of a final investment decision, slated for 2022.
Whilst it may not have the direct expertise of Equinor on hand it is perhaps notable that Jersey only last week engaged FTSE 250 oil service group Petrofac to assist with facilities and well support.
For investors, the narrative is quite clear. Jersey has material but relatively lower risk assets on its hands and a fairly simple (and maybe short) route to commercialisation.
High-quality expertise is evidently on hand, or can be accessed and contracted, but, as if typically the case for small caps, the biggest hurdle is the availability of funds - as any Sirius Minerals shareholder can attest such risks should not be overlooked.
In the coming weeks and months, it will be intriguing to see whether Jersey and its management team can be tempted to follow examples set by the likes of Hurricane Energy (LON:HUR), Independent Oil & Gas (LON:IOG) and i3 Energy (LON:I3E) which have bypassed the usual partnering model and have taken field development into their own hands.
Hurricane Energy has already raced into production
Something of an outlier among these would-be peers, Hurricane already has the backing of deep-pocketed private-equity support when it floated in London in 2014.
Hurricane, since then, has executed a series of important funding rounds with the help of its cornerstone investors.
With this financial support, it delivered multiple successful wells and has brought the Lancaster field online via an ‘early production system’ capable of flowing some 17,000 barrels of oil per day – at last count, it was producing around 14,000 and the ramp-up is continuing.
The latest batch of wells have been drilled in partnership with Centrica-backed Spirit Energy and they’re earmarked to lift EPS volumes further through a tie-in to Lancaster’s facilities with an investment decision slated for 2021.
A farm-out partnership has long been speculated among investors – and also discussed in the past by management – as, for all its successes, Hurricane’s EPS is believed to be only a small tip of a large iceberg.
Jersey Oil will hope for a similar outcome.