Which Aussie oil juniors are benefiting from higher prices – and which aren’t
The oil price is going up but getting a new exploration project over the line in Australia is proving difficult.
Spending on oil and gas exploration here in Australia dropped by more than quarter in the December quarter to $245 million, according to the government’s latest Resources and Energy Quarterly report.
The locally focused small cap oil sector is tiny, with only about 16 companies scratching out a living in this region.
Of those, about six are producing oil, or own an interest in a producing field in Australia.
Scroll down for a table of notable Australia-focused ASX small cap oil and gas stocks.
For the producers, life is sweet.
“All the oil producers have been actively reducing their cost structures, and many of us are producing at under $30 a barrel,” Triangle Energy managing director Rob Towner told Stockhead.
“And in the last six months oil has gone from $US40 to almost $US70.”
Mr Towner says he’s “feeling better now than I have done for a couple of years” as Triangle (ASX:TEG) has been making about $US60-62 a barrel for the last two months.
Triangle Energy and Buru Energy (ASX:BRU) have been the stand-out producers.
Buru reported last week that it has 5000 barrels of oil in storage tanks at the Ungani oil field and trucking arrangements to get it up to capacity 3000 barrels of oil a day.
Triangle is making free cash on each barrel is produces, which it will put into getting more oil out of existing fields.
But notwithstanding that positive feeling, the higher oil price is not translating into more exploration, making it tough for exploration-focused companies.
And the benefits of being a non-operator owner of a producing field aren’t flowing into shares prices, as seen with Norwest Energy and Whitebark Energy which each own a piece of Triangle’s Xanadu licence.
The consistent view across the industry is that if companies have oil and near-term plans to drill or produce — and they’re in the right part of Australia — they can access finance and will be fine.
If they don’t have these things, perhaps it’s time to go into gas instead.
Notable Australia-focused ASX small cap oil and gas stocks:
The lack of exploration is a problem.
Oil and gas exploration spending dropped 27 per cent in the December quarter to $245 million, according to the government’s latest Resources and Energy Quarterly report.
Crude oil production is expected to decline at an average annual rate of 4.7 per cent until 2022-23, when it will hit 109,000 barrels a day.
“Future investment is focused on brownfields expansion and backfilling declining production fields,” the report said.
It noted “a difficult operating environment” as a key reason for the exploration shortage.
Moratoriums and bans on energy exploration and fracking are limiting the kind of exploration that can be done.
“The increase in the oil price has had some impact on activity but it’s still got to be balanced with the regulatory concerns and embargos and State government difficulties that outweigh exploration,” Bell Potter Securities analyst Peter Arden told Stockhead.
The NT fracking inquiry recommended lifting the moratorium in that State, but the practice is prohibited in Victoria and is the subject of a moratorium in Tasmania and Western Australia.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method where water mixed with lubricants is sent down a well to force open cracks and fissures holding oil or gas.
The bans are a major problem for the broader oil and gas industry, Mr Towner believes.
“There’s no question that the biggest contention point is this fracking ban. It just doesn’t affect unconventional, it also affects people on the conventional front,” he said.
For infrastructure and drilling rig companies to be financially viable, they need fracking to be part of the equation, says Mr Towner.
“They’re all related. It’s all about putting a hole in the ground,” he said.
It’s not all good news for Australian producers either.
While Triangle ships to BP’s Kwinana refiner, Buru has to truck theirs to the Port of Wyndham, where it gets sent to South East Asia refineries.